Cambodia’s government has sought to downplay public criticism of Chinese investment in the wake of a recently released police report which found that Chinese citizens were the top perpetrators of crime committed by foreign nationals in the country in the first quarter of 2019.
Cambodia’s National Police published a report Tuesday which found that of 341 foreign nationals detained for criminal offenses occurring between Dec. 20, 2018 and March 19, 2019, 241 were Chinese nationals, followed by 49 Vietnamese, 26 Thais, four South Koreans, and three Americans.
Chinese nationals also made up the largest number of victims of crime in Cambodia over the same period with 98 victims, followed by 12 French nationals, 11 British, nine German, and seven Americans.
The National Police said foreign nationals were held for offenses including “drug dealing, sexual harassment, illegal marriages, and the overstaying of visas,” while victims had suffered as the result of “accidents, illnesses, suicide and traffic accidents.”
The report came amid a string of high-profile arrests of Chinese nationals, including 163 people netted during a March police raid on a Siem Reap-based illegal online gambling ring, two people who shot a driver to death during a brazen daylight carjacking in Sihanoukville on Monday, and 28 people nabbed a day later in a bust of an online extortion scam operating out of Phnom Penh.
Speaking during a meeting to discuss the report’s findings at the Ministry of Interior headquarters on Tuesday, National Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Chhay Kim Khoeun said Chinese nationals likely topped the list of criminal detentions due to the growing number of Chinese investors in Cambodia, according to a report by the Khmer Times.
“It’s clear that crackdowns have uncovered more crimes,” he said, adding that “economic development and investment have attracted more foreign investors and tourists, so crimes are likely to occur.”
The Phnom Penh Post quoted O’Russey I commune police chief Thong Mardy as saying that Chinese nationals who relocate to Cambodia “don’t seek to learn our laws.”
“The Chinese nationals who come here were mostly criminals in China who have poor track records, and they commit offenses,” he said, adding, “were we to implement our country’s legal measures, there’d be no pardons for them.”
Following this week’s report, government spokesman Phay Siphan acknowledged that Chinese nationals have increasingly been responsible for crimes in Cambodia and told RFA’s Khmer Service that the government is “working to resolve the issue.”
But he also looked to soften public criticism of Chinese investment in the country, noting that no crimes committed by Chinese nationals have amounted to national security threats.
“Investors don’t shoot each other on the streets—these things have involved only a few bad people,” he said.
“I would like to let the people know that the government isn’t ignoring the issue. We are working on it.”
Growing Chinese influence
In November 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court ruled to ban the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), months after its president, Kem Sokha, was arrested for an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
The dissolution of the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media, which paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
While relations with the West have increasingly soured since the ballot, which was widely seen as a rollback of democratic freedoms, Cambodia’s government has in recent months touted improved ties with China, which typically offers funding without many of the prerequisites that the U.S. and EU place on donations, such as improvements to human rights and rule of law.
Chinese investment now flows into Cambodian real estate, agriculture and entertainment—particularly to the port city of Sihanoukville—but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they say are unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese residents, and worry that their country is increasingly bending to Beijing’s will.
In September last year, the Ministry of Interior established a taskforce to assist police in Sihanoukville province with crimes following an increase of Chinese nationals to the region.
A month later, the taskforce reported that Chinese criminal organizations had followed Chinese investment into the country and setting up local operations.
In September, outgoing Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo acknowledged the climbing rates of crime among Chinese living in Cambodia—including drug and sex trafficking and online or telephone scams—and thanked Cambodian authorities for helping to crack down, according to a Sept. 28 report in the Khmer Times.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.