When one of the owner of a casino in Cambodia looks out the window of his 20th floor office on the Cambodian coast, he sees heavy equipment used to create high-rise buildings. But there is no sign of anyone operating the construction equipment.
Kang Qiang is his name. For years, Chinese visitors and their money have supported his and other gaming businesses in the city. But now, Sihanoukville is facing problems. Travel restrictions designed to slow the coronavirus pandemic have worsened the effects of a ban last year on online gambling.
But He believes there is a great future after the pandemic. He is waiting for the return of Chinese money to support the city’s expansion. He is so sure he has added gold toilets to his casino’s restrooms.
“This city is just starting,” says Kang, 60. “I love it. Sihanoukville gives you a feeling of freedom and no control.”
For Kang and others, the city is like the China of 20 or 30 years ago. It shows lots of promise and has none of the competition. Kang believes the economic problems resulting from the virus are not important.
Sihanoukville has a deep water port. It is part of the Chinese government’s Belt and Road building initiative, which invests money in projects all around the world. In the next three years, Sihanoukville will hold the Southeast Asian Games and a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.
Chinese money is important to the economies of Southeast Asia. Cambodia has received a large amount of money for investment. Prime Minister Hun Sen is doing all he can to strengthen ties to China.
In Sihanoukville, most of the money has been from private investors. Most of it has gone into about 70 casinos. All those businesses were ordered to close from April 1 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The gambling industry has reshaped the city so much that some locals struggle to recognize it.
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