Sihanoukville Chinese invasion sends expats packing

Published:  5 Jul at 6 PM
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The Chinese invasion of Sihanoukville feels like a rape of Cambodia’s culture and history.

Once upon a time in a land far away, a beachside town was home not only to its local residents but also to expatriates of all shapes, sizes and nationalities, drawn by its charm and friendliness as well as its history as a favourite summer holiday destination for city folk from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Sadly, fast-forwarding to 2019 reveals a totally different story due to the ambitions of a totally different neighbouring country. China’s 21st century bid to take back its former glories via a new, so-called, Silk Road has been in the planning stages for 150 years or more, and is now taking shape in Southeast Asia with Cambodia as its focus. Sihanoukville is to become its major hub in the region, and the Cambodian rulers are simply sitting back, stretching their hands out for the money and letting it happen. It seems it’s the country’s fate to be a casualty of other, far more powerful countries’ ambitions, just as it suffered horribly during the Vietnam War.

Western expat retirement refugees from Thailand’s ever-tightening visa requirements have moved on, some just a few months after they arrived, as have the majority of the local population, and Cambodians now shun their once favourite holiday destination. According to local media, Chinese nationals now own over 90 per cent of all Sihanoukville’s businesses, mostly casinos, hotels catering to Chinese tastes, massage parlours and restaurants. Out of a total of 156 hotels, 150 are owned and run by Chinese, along with 48 of the 62 casinos and 95 per cent of the restaurants.

The CEO of a major travel association told reporters the massive amount of Chinese money being invested in the former holiday paradise is having negative effects such as the loss of national identity, jobs for locals, social security problems and a devastated environment. He believes no more than 50 per cent of investment in a local market should be the rule, and beefing up legal requirements should be essential as the entire province is now at risk. Chinese tourists come for one reason only – to gamble – and literally thousands of imported Chinese labourers toil night and day to provide even more casinos and related services.

The economic loop is closed as Chinese visitors use only Chinese-owned facilities, with local people cut out and losing everything as a result. Inflation is rampant, with newly-unemployed locals unable to afford rentals and necessities, and gun violence is now the norm, as are brawls, kidnappings, extortion and assassinations, all credited to the Chinese. Locals are scared, believing the incomers are responsible for crimes committed with impunity, and local police are benefiting financially from the new order.
Sihanoukville’s famous Serendipity Beach says it all, as it’s now covered in builders’ rubble, plastic, timber, plaster and rubbish. The expats have all left, but locals may find jobs supplying the Chinese hordes – but at what cost to the once much-loved, now destroyed town?
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