Quite a bit going on in local Sino-Cambodian relations this week, as befits the country's largest donor.
- Beijing made good on its promise to donate 100 new vehicles, 98 buses and 2 service vehicles in order to support the growth of Phnom Penh's relatively tiny public transit system. China rounded out its largesse with the realization of its USD 132 million loan for the construction of a new road branching off of Highway 5, to better facilitate trade with Thailand. This fulfills an initial request made by Prime Minister Hun Sen to Beijing back in 2012.
- Chinese tourists are the new global leaders in international travel and tourism spending around $200 billion per year globally (ranking significantly higher than the second place United States). And Cambodia is no exception, receiving 440,000 visitors from the PRC since the beginning of the year, a 35.6% increase on 2016 according to the Chinese embassy. Still, most westerners in town probably haven't noticed - Phnom Penh's omnipresent tourist cafes and restaurants have done little to cater to this population, ignoring an enormous market. Finding a "western style" restaurant with a Chinese language menu or Mandarin-speaking staff remains nearly impossible on the riverside and in the usual expat neighborhoods of Phnom Penh despite this growth. Cambodia is aiming for 2 million mainland Chinese tourists to visit Cambodia by 2020.
- Some solid numbers are out today from Beijing as to the extent of China's economic interests in the Kingdom - USD 12 billion is the current estimate, with a heavy focus on agriculture, light industry, and hydropower. Bilateral trade in 2016 totaled USD 4.76 billion last year and is well on track to top USD 5 billion in 2017.
- If you happen to be near the Diamond Island Convention Center, the Lancang-Mekong regional trade fair is in full swing - supported by the various regional governments and the China International Trade Facilitation Committee. Nearly every major Chinese firm in Cambodia is represented.
- And perhaps the most interesting bit of news - a new branch of the Confucius Institute opened this week at the Cambodian Ministry of Defense in order to facilitate improvements in Chinese language ability among the staff. Sixty students are currently enrolled, seemingly heavy on senior staff, with several at the rank of general or major general in RAFC.
Exciting times for Sino-Cambodian relations.