China Envoy Pushes Back Against Complaints About Chinese Investors in Cambodia

Xiong Bo tells local media accounts of money laundering by Chinese investors are “fake” news.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) walk past the honour guard at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Jan. 11, 2018.

China’s ambassador to Cambodia took the rare step on Thursday of calling a news conference to criticize recent media reports that a wave of Chinese investment in the Southeast Asian country represented money laundering, calling them “fake” news.

Ambassador Xiong Bo also called on Cambodian authorities to track money laundering and promised to cooperate with Phnom Penh in cracking down on violations of financial laws.

“If any news media or report saying that Chinese investments in Cambodia are mostly involving in a money laundering scheme, I think they are not true,” Xiong told reporters at the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

“A number of media outlets have reported that Chinese investments in Cambodia are mostly carried out as part of a money-laundering scheme. I think most of these media outlets are from Western countries,” he said.

“That news is fake since they aim at serving their political gains. This is because they don’t want to see sound relations between Cambodia and China as the two countries have been enjoying like in the present time,” said Xiong.

“Also, they don’t want to see the ‘one belt, one road’ initiative from flourishing and being implementing smoothly in Cambodia,” added the envoy, referring to Beijing’s signature global infrastructure scheme designed to integrate economies and spread China’s influence throughout Eurasia and the Pacific region.

Xiong did not specify which outlet he thought had misrepresented Chinese investment in Cambodia.

A Jan. 9 report in the New York Times on the Chinese investment boom in Cambodian real estate quoted a consultant as saying businessmen trying to avoid Beijing’s reach were moving millions of dollars into Cambodian properties.

The Times quoted George McLeod, a political risk consultant based in Bangkok, as saying that Cambodia’s lax financial oversight practices left them “wide open to serve as vehicles to launder cash” for corrupt officials and criminals.

“Given my experience doing investigations in Cambodia, I am convinced that laundered money from the P.R.C. is a substantial portion of property investment in Phnom Penh,” McLeod said.

Although Xiong rejected the accusations, he told reporters “should the news of money laundering be true about Chinese investments in Cambodia, China strictly opposes such act and will definitely take measures against those cases.”

China’s investors, whether corporate or government entities, are “transparent” about their funding and lending, the ambassador said.

Xiong also said the Chinese government will oppose any Chinese investors who want to build casinos in Cambodia or build a Chinatown in the coastal resort city of Sihanoukville.

Such projects have been the subject of rumors in Cambodian media, amid complaints about Chinese taking jobs from local workers and accounts of organized crime activities in Sihanouk province.

In a work report submitted on Jan. 24 to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min raised concerns about negative aspects of an increasing Chinese presence in the area.

Yun Min said some Chinese nationals were involved in organized crime activities and had been engaged in extortion of other investors and that an excess of foreign, most Chinese, workers was causing friction with local residents.

On Feb. 1, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the inflow of Chinese investors in recent years and downplayed concerns over negative aspects of the boom.

“Lately, there have been concerns about the heavy presence of Chinese nationals and investors,” he said.

“Yet let me ask, at the time of such abundance of investments, do we have enough human resources for them? The reason they bring their own people to work here is because we cannot meet their demands,” added Hun Sen.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.