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IN SPOTLIGHT: Cambodia’s $16 billion ‘eco-city’ raises financial, environmental concerns

FIND THE MONEY

Finding financial backers and partners for the multibillion-dollar project comes at a time when China – historically a major backer of infrastructure projects in Cambodia – has tightened its finances abroad.

The potential problems facing Prince – and the fluid but strong relationship between Beijing and the new government in Cambodia, led by Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet – have viewers worried about where the vast sources of money needed to finance the Bay of Lights. comes from.

“The tap has been turned off, and everyone who lived off it is living on credit,” said Sophal Ear, an associate professor of global political economy at Arizona State University and an expert on Cambodia-China relations.

“It also seems accurate to say that these investments are changing. This change could be due to changes in China’s own economic policies, global economic conditions, and Cambodia’s regulatory landscape.

“The new Manet administration’s approach to managing relations with powerful Chinese groups will be indicative of Cambodia’s future economic and diplomatic direction,” he added.

Canopy Sands said it has “actively engaged with a diverse group of international investors” beyond China, from Singapore, Korea, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Thailand, “showcasing the project’s global appeal and its potential to redefine urban life”. , according to Mr. Chen.

In March, it signed a deal with UAE-based investment platform Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) Congress to build a convention center within the Bay of Lights and host future investment conferences. .

It was a sign of a rare foray into Cambodia by a Middle Eastern team.

“This type of diversification of investment sources could be a positive step for southern Cambodia, potentially bringing new perspectives, new technologies and innovative approaches to development… as long as it respects local needs and sensitivities,” said Mr. Sophal.

For average Cambodians, there is an ingrained wariness about the influence of Chinese investments across the country, which has left many “out in the cold,” according to Virak.

“Domestically, I think there is a lot of opposition to Chinese participation in investment. If you’re not in it, then you won’t like what you’ve seen,” she said.

“I think that has not been helpful in the relationship between its largest and most important neighbor in the region.”

Cambodians have been excluded from Sihanoukville, amid a construction boom, he said, souring locals’ ties with those reaping the financial windfalls.

In recent years, thousands of Cambodians have filed class-action lawsuits against Ponzi schemes and prominent tycoons have been arrested for fraud in land construction and investment schemes.

The province’s former governor, Yun Min, spoke of land and property values ​​doubling or even quadrupling between 2017 and 2018. Rental market prices increased up to 10 times compared to before the large Chinese entry. scale in the market, according to local media reports in 2018.

“That has created a bubble that explodes. Right now, the construction is taking a life of its own,” said Mr. Virak.

“It has become an industry driven by speculation, but also by money laundering. “Construction is usually a response to a certain demand, but then people start using it as a way to clean up their dirty money,” he said.

In recent years, large swathes of Cambodia’s southern coast have been converted into private land in the name of infrastructure and economic development. Prime waterfront areas, mangrove forests and national parks have been created for various powerful individuals, conglomerates or foreign investors.