Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday dismissed criticism over his government’s use of funds to construct a new soccer stadium in the capital Phnom Penh, saying the money was donated by China and that the project was key to improving the lives of Cambodians after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
Speaking during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Morodok Techo National Sport Complex in Phnom Penh’s Chrouy Changvar district, Hun Sen waived off claims that the estimated 1 billion yuan (U.S. $157 million) required to build it would be better spent on infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
“I believe our people, and especially our athletes, won’t belittle my ability and that of the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)] in leading Cambodia to host the SEA Games,” he said, referring to the biennial sporting event involving participants from the 11 nations comprising Southeast Asia.
“After the regime of genocide and wars, Cambodians need infrastructure, social development and improvement of our livelihoods.”
Nearly two million Cambodians died from starvation, exhaustion, forced labor and execution during the communist Khmer Rouge government that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. The country has spent much of the last four decades recovering from devastation caused by the regime.
Cambodia joined the SEA Games as a participating country in 1961, but will be hosting the event for the first time in 2023.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service about the use of Chinese aid to build the sports complex, political commentator Meas Ny acknowledged the importance of sports in improving the nation, but said the government must consider other sectors as well.
“Genuine development is not proven in just the construction of a new stadium,” he said.
“There are other contributing factors, such as the cleanliness of the nation’s cities and usefulness of other public services.”
Garden City development
When completed, Morodok Techo stadium is expected to be a showpiece attraction in the 2,000-hectare (4942-acre) Garden City development being built by CPP senator Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) north of central Phnom Penh.
LYP Group will construct the stadium using funds comprised of Chinese aid.
In December, LYP Group and China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG) signed a U.S. $1.5 billion deal to build a Cambodia-China Friendship City on a 550-hectare (1360-acre) parcel of land within Garden City. The project is expected to begin this year and include a convention center, hotels, a golf course, schools, logistics centers and amusement parks.
At the time, Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said the deal was the result of a fruitful state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Cambodia in mid-October.
Ahead of the deal, the Phnom Penh Post quoted David Van, local managing director of the Bower Group Asia, as saying that while it would reflect on the good relations between Cambodia and China, it was too large of an investment for Cambodia’s small market.
“Cambodia is not ready for this kind of giant project because consumer society here is not yet that sophisticated,” Van told the Post, adding that while many projects in the country commit billions of dollars in investment, few are ever completed.
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.