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Sihanoukville has become a cautionary tale of Hun Sen

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Sihanoukville has become a cautionary tale of Hun Sen

After several years of booming construction and rising foreign investment, the hot streak for the Cambodian beach town of Sihanoukville has gone cold. In late December, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a permanent ban on online gambling, leaving thousands of Cambodian workers jobless.

Sihanoukville’s new developments, from hotels to restaurants and infrastructure projects, have been built on Chinese demand, which is related to the casino industry. Gambling is illegal in China, apart from Macau, and while the Cambodian government bars its citizens from gambling, foreign nationals had been permitted to gamble online, until last year. 

Chinese interest in Sihanoukville has also been driven by the city’s role in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which promises investment in infrastructure and further economic integration. Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen new ban suggests that the state desires more control over runaway development.

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Hun Sen is struggling to keep Sihanoukville’s state-sponsored boom on track

Foreign investment in Sihanoukville begin to rise dramatically in 2016 as the city become a key point on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, with Chinese companies backing port projects. As in much of Cambodia, Chinese support in Sihanoukville has helped the Cambodian government to set a new development agenda.

Last March, Phay Siphan – cambodia government spokesman, give a two-hour press conference extolling plans to build a “city of miracles” in Sihanoukville, compared its future to Singapore, Silicon Valley and Las Vegas.

But as the boom continued, it also bring negative consequences, even before the casino money ran out. Last June, a seven-story Chinese construction project collapsed, killing 28 people. A Cambodian provincial court charged five Chinese nationals, two for manslaughter, three for conspiracy in the crime.

After this and other incidents, residents in the area, construction workers and civil society groups spoke concerns over Chinese developers violating Cambodian law. The Cambodian government’s attempts to control development in Sihanoukville are also having a negative impact on some local residents.

Sihanoukville won’t be Las Vegas, but it’s still on the Belt and Road

Chinese developers haven’t entirely abandoned Sihanoukville. Some are hoping to ride out the slump and envision a different future for the city, post-gambling frenzy.

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