Population: 16.6 million
GDP (US$): 7.0% in 2019; -1.6% forecast in 2020;
Life Expectancy: 69.4
Median Age: 24

Cambodia is a least-developed country but has seen significant, if uneven, economic growth in the past three decades driven by the garment industry and tourism. Its prime minister, Hun Sen, is one of the world's longest serving leaders. He has tightened his grip on power after the main opposition party was dissolved by court order in 2017.

Since the inception of the One Belt, One Road initiative in 2013, Cambodia has embraced Chinese development wholeheartedly, hoping it can drive national growth as the nation faces sanctions from Western nations over its suppression of democracy. China has become Cambodia’s largest foreign investor, bilateral donor, trading partner, buyer of Cambodian rice, and the largest source of foreign tourists.

China's preeminence in the Cambodian sphere is virtually unchallenged. Chinese investment in Cambodia between 2012-2016 exceeded $4 billion – 30 times more than U.S. investment. China’s $265 million in aid in 2016 was more than double Japan’s and nearly quadruple that from the United States. But nearly half of Cambodia's foreign debt is also owed to China - many times more than what it owes any other country.

cambodia map

The resort city of Sihanoukville has become a magnet for Chinese in Cambodia, with dozens of casinos already built and dozens more planned. Sihanoukville's port is home to a special economic zone, and 90 percent of companies there are Chinese, all operating tax-free. A US$2 billion highway linking Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh is under construction. The casino-driven economic boom in Sihanoukville has driven land prices beyond the reach of local Cambodians, and brought with it crime and environmental degradation.

Despite those drawbacks, there's no sign they will dampen Hun Sen’s affections for China, which also provides valued diplomatic support for a government increasingly alienated from the West. In a sign of fealty, Hun Sen came to the defense of China in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, refusing to stop flights from Cambodia to China.

Web page produced by: Minh-Ha Le
Videos & Photos: Radio Free Asia
Editing: H. Leo Kim, Mat Pennington
Produced by Radio Free Asia

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