Cambodia’s government is investigating the employment status of Chinese nationals operating businesses in Sihanoukville province, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said Monday, amid complaints by local residents who say they are losing work to the immigrants.
Speaking at a ceremony to announce the establishment of a national working group for Sihanoukville in the provincial capital, Sar Kheng said that while locals were initially happy that Chinese investors were purchasing their land at high prices, they are now frustrated because they are losing jobs to an increasing number of Chinese nationals who are moving to the area.
Sar Kheng said he learned of the situation after ordering experts from his ministry to investigate the matter in Sihanoukville by meeting with the provincial governor, businessmen and local residents.
“Our people in the past used to earn money running barbershops, for instance, but since the Chinese have arrived, they can’t do it anymore,” he said.
“We cannot close these [Chinese] businesses. We’ve thought about closing some of their businesses to allow a number of businesses reserved for local residents, but we … can’t do that these days.”
Cambodia drew condemnation after its Supreme Court dissolved the country’s main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017, paving the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to steamroll a general election in July last year widely seen as unfree and unfair.
After the CPP’s election victory, Beijing offered its full support of Hun Sen’s government, and Cambodia has increasingly backed China in its international affairs, including in disputes with ASEAN nations over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese investment has flowed into Cambodia in the form of real estate, agriculture and entertainment, 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.
The Interior Ministry’s secretary of state Sok Phal recently said that as of 2018 there were more than 210,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia, 78,000 of whom reside in Sihanoukville province.
Only 20,000 of those living in Sihanoukville have proper employment permits, he said.
A resident of Sihanoukville named Seng Meng Bunrong told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday that if the government does not act to restrain the growth of Chinese businesses in the area, the Cambodians who live there “will all end up becoming their workers.”
“The Chinese have their own barbershops, mechanics garage, vegetable stores and restaurants,” he said—in short, they own everything,” he said.
“I see that now they are conducting their businesses alongside Cambodian residents. But in the future, when the Chinese own everything, our Cambodian residents will lose their jobs and the Chinese will only help one another.”
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) executive director San Chey told RFA that the increasing presence of Chinese in Cambodia has been “complicating the situation for locals,” and that the government should set out a mechanism to determine what types of businesses can be operated by foreign nationals.
“This problem has arisen because of a legal loophole—we fail to specify clearly which types of business are permitted for foreign nationals and what kind of human resources are needed from China,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.