Cambodia should tighten restrictions on the influx of Chinese nationals to the country, according to a local rights group, which says the community is responsible for rampant violent crime and loose ethics that are contributing to the downfall of society.
Many Chinese nationals living in Cambodia are part of criminal gangs and “carry illegal weapons, which they use freely,” causing Cambodian residents in several provinces to fear for their safety, Soeng Senkaruna of local rights group Adhoc recently told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“We have seen Chinese nationals causing a lot of difficulties in terms of social insecurity—getting involved in illegal activities and so on—and the authorities having to take action against them,” he said.
“They are involved in cybercrimes and unethical driving behavior, and regularly resort to violence, such as chopping and stabbing people at entertainment centers. These bad behaviors have led to anarchy in our Cambodian society.”
Soeng Senkaruna expressed concern over China’s population of more than 1 billion people, compared to Cambodia’s population of slightly more than 15 million, and suggested that Cambodia is likely to “lose many of its natural resources” because of an increase of Chinese immigrants.
A recent report by the National Police, under Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior, said that there are some 250,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia, including around 100,000 each in the capital Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels, and real estate in Cambodia—particularly in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flash point for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians complain about unscrupulous business practices, gangland violence, and unbecoming behavior by growing crowds of Chinese investors and tourists drawn to Sihanoukville and a nearby Chinese Special Economic Zone connected to Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
“If we freely allow the influx of the Chinese immigrants, I am strongly concerned that we will be forced to fight against an occupation of our country,” Soeng Senkaruna said.
“We’ve already seen the seizure of the natural resources of our nation—including our land, beaches, islands, minerals and forests—and know that the Chinese have been enjoying all of the benefits of Cambodia for a long time.”
Soeng Senkaruna said that the presence of Chinese nationals in Cambodia has “done little to benefit the Cambodian people,” but dismissed any suggestion that Cambodians are prejudiced against their community.
“We don’t discriminate against any nation, in accordance with respect for human rights,” he said.
“We welcome all nationals who come to our country, provided they respect the rights of the Cambodian people, their morals, and their various traditions.”
Soeng Senkaruna also urged Cambodian authorities to prosecute Chinese nationals who are suspected of having committed crimes before deporting them to China, saying they are likely to engage in the same kinds of activity if they are not punished when they return home.
“We don’t follow up on whether the persons who [are believed to have] committed crimes in Cambodia have actually been punished in their homeland or not,” he said.
China and Cambodia have an extradition treaty, and Chinese nationals who are suspected of having committed crimes in Cambodia are regularly sent home after their arrest.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of the Interior deported 150 Chinese nationals arrested this month who are believed to have engaged in telecommunications scams on a special flight arranged by China’s Ministry of Public Security.
Authorities in Cambodia deported 235 Chinese nationals accused of extortion in November 2018, after sending home at least 373 Chinese nationals accused of internet scams and kidnapping from Preah Sihanouk’s capital Sihanoukville alone between January and October.
Ath Bony of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Department of Immigration sought to downplay fears over Chinese nationals in Cambodia on Wednesday, saying that the community has brought investment to the country and provided many jobs for Cambodians.
“There is nothing to worry about for the Khmer people because this is the general evolution of the world,” he said, without elaborating.
Ath Bony’s comments follow those of several other high-ranking Cambodian officials—including Prime Minister Hun Sen—who have defended Chinese investment in the country, despite the concerns of local residents.
Yun Min, the former governor of Preah Sihanouk, submitted a report in January this year to Interior Minister Sar Kheng in which he raised strong concerns over the negative perception of the growing Chinese population in the province.
In his report, Yun Min said that while some Chinese nationals were involved in organized crime and extortion, much of the conflict between Cambodians and Chinese immigrants to the region stemmed from petty disputes.
Yun Min resigned from his post after a Chinese-owned unlicensed seven-story building collapsed in Sihanoukville in June, killing 28 people and injuring 26—many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the second floor at the time of the incident.
He was later appointed to secretary of state to Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense and promoted as a four-star general, despite anger from the public over his mishandling of the building collapse.
Reported and translated by Aun Pheap for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.