Cambodian and Chinese officials visit an exhibition of projects under the Belt and Road Initiative at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, May 22, 2023. /Xinhua
Editor's note: Chea Thyrith, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a Political and Foreign Affairs Commentator and Desk Editor for BTV News, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been playing a significant role in the development of the ASEAN countries. Many projects are established under the BRI framework to support the economy and infrastructure in the ASEAN countries in the past 10 years since its founding in 2013. Of all ASEAN countries, Cambodia is one of the beneficiaries of the project.
According to Chheang Vannarith, the President of the Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute, BRI complements ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan.
In the case of Cambodia, Vannarith mentioned that BRI provides a new platform for bilateral economic cooperation between Cambodia and China. Under the aegis of BRI, cooperation between the two countries has rapidly expanded especially in infrastructure development. BRI has created momentum for partnership and shared leadership in implementing bilateral projects, which would be much slower without the BRI cooperation framework.
China, through BRI, has provided a lot of funding via aid and loans for infrastructure development in Cambodia. In November 2022, former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Cambodia for the 2022 ASEAN Summit and announced new infrastructure projects under BRI for ASEAN. Cambodia is at the center of the respective infrastructure project implementation. China has planned to build an expressway from Phnom Penh to Bavet City of Svay Rieng Province, a Cambodian province bordering Vietnam as well as the railway linking Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Vientiane. It is worth noting that the high-speed railway between Vientiane of Laos and China has already been constructed.
On 22 May, Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen spoke at the gathering with workers in Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone that the BRI, launched in 2013, has been providing benefits to all of its members, especially the ASEAN countries.
According to China's General Administration of Customs, the bilateral trade between ASEAN and China increased to $975.3 billion in 2022 from approximately $641 billion in 2019. Both sides have become the largest trading partner for each other for many consecutive years.
Following the congratulatory remarks for the 10th anniversary of BRI establishment, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen added that this initiative had not threatened any countries, rather all members had been participating through the win-win cooperation to build peace in the region and the rest of the world. The BRI is in line with the Cambodian government's policy of supporting all initiatives that do not oppose any countries, enhance peace and development, and stand for ASEAN's centrality.
The Cambodian prime minister also stated, "If we look at China's policy, no declaration of enmity has been made with any country and China has never set out a policy of blocking or hostile to other countries. That is why, BRI is growing very fast."
The Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway project in Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia, June 24, 2022. /Xinhua
Hun Sen emphasized that BRI has greatly contributed to the development and modernization of Cambodia. He mentioned the fruitful outcomes of China's support through BRI in Cambodia such as new airports, underwater fiber optic cable and thousands of kilometers of roads and bridges. In addition, BRI also promotes the scale of trade for both Cambodia and China.
According to the report of the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia, the bilateral trade between Cambodia and China has increased by about 5 percent in one-year time from $11.194 billion in 2021 to $11.686 billion in 2022. It also makes up about 22.29 percent of the total trade of Cambodia in 2022 (i.e., approximately $52.424 billion).
Mey Kalyan, a senior advisor to the Supreme National Economic Council of Cambodia said that the BRI has a very significant impact on developing countries in ASEAN, like Cambodia. It provides real confidence and aspiration that connectivity to the world is real. Initially, ASEAN countries can develop merely based on their capabilities. With the BRI, however, ASEAN's capabilities have been boosted and expedited.
Kalyan further commented that BRI also provides the most appropriate option for Cambodia's infrastructure building. Within the orthodox framework, big infrastructure must be funded by big financial institutions like the World Bank which impose stringent conditions that the borrowing countries cannot afford. The BRI, on the other hand, offers affordable options like the Chinese-invested expressway from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, which was built on the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) form. Furthermore, the BRI provides real and tangible infrastructure assets to Cambodia including highways, airports, and bridges which, as a result, stimulate the socio-economic development and lift up the living standards of its people.
On 21 April 2023, China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke at the opening ceremony ofthe Lanting Forum on Chinese Modernization and the World in Shanghai that the BRI is the public good that China offers to the international community. It opens platforms for pursuing common development and prosperity.
Ten years on, since the start of the BRI, over 3,000 cooperation projects have been launched, involving close to $1 trillion of investment and creating 420,000 jobs for participating countries. Many nations have thus realized their dreams of railways, big bridges, and poverty alleviation.
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