Prime Minister Hun Sen has lashed out at Cambodian embassies overseas, blaming them for discouraging foreign tourists from visiting the country and even accusing some of overcharging for tourist visas.
“There are two places that kick our guests away; border checkpoints and embassies abroad,” Hun Sen said last week during a tourism conference in Siem Reap.
He specifically mentioned the Cambodian consulate in China, where he claimed, “the staff extorts money….This issue must be looked into.”
Cambodian consular staff in the city of Guangzhou were reportedly charging Chinese tourists $30 for their visas, which normally cost $20, Foreign Affairs Ministry officials said.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Monday he intends to investigate these allegations and threatened to take legal action against any consular staff found to have bribed visitors or hiked the price of visas.
“I will officially inform [the consulate] that the price of a visa is $20, not one cent more,” Hor Namhong said.
Asians made up a majority of the visitors to Cambodia last year, with 30,000 of them from China, according to Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth.
Tourism officials hope that number will triple to around 100,000 this year. Hun Sen’s attack on Cambodia’s consulate in China appears to be part of a larger play for Chinese tourist business.
At the Siem Reap conference, China was granted “most favored nation” status for tourism and Hun Sen announced that Chinese tourists would be able to use their native currency, the yuan, at Cambodian tourist sites.
“Thailand and Malaysia have received favorable conditions from China,” Hun Sen said.
“We can gain a lot from China because the Chinese will buy here and live here with their money,” he said.
Veng Sereyvuth admitted that problems existed in some overseas embassies but downplayed the reports of corruption, saying scams like those allegedly occurring in China are limited.
“There are many good diplomats and good embassies doing an excellent job,” Veng Sereyvuth said Tuesday.
“I think some reports got through to Hun Sen of irregularities [in China] and he is taking this opportunity to state that if this kind of thing occurs it is not good as far as promoting Cambodia,” he said.
The consulate in Guangzhou came under fire late last year after Cambodian authorities arrested a Chinese woman at Pochentong Airport with dozens of Cambodian visas allegedly bought in China and meant for illegal Chinese in Phnom Penh.
No action was taken, despite accusations that Guangzhou was a staging point for massive numbers of illegal Chinese traveling to Cambodia, often with legal travel papers or passports bought overseas.