China's reopening to outbound tourism, coupled with strong Sino-Cambodian collaborative ties that maintained their momentum during the Covid-19 crisis alongside the benevolent welcome mat rolled out by Cambodia, could provide the catalyst for a considerable influx in Chinese investors and tourists to the Kingdom.

Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), made the remark at a press conference on the results of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s February 9-11 visit to China.

Chenda Sophea hailed the joint works that Cambodia and China have carried out to promote cooperation in all areas, highlighting all that the former has done to extend a special welcome to Chinese visitors and investors without discrimination.

This comes amid concerns that elevated coronavirus infections in China following the abandonment of its “dynamic zero-Covid” approach could be fuelling the emergence of new and potentially more dangerous variants of the pathogen.

“Some may be afraid that Covid-19 is rampant across China, and that if [we] were to remain as welcoming, they’d [Chinese travellers] flow into Cambodia and plunge us into a fresh predicament.

“Nonetheless, when they opened, we proclaimed that Cambodia would extend its welcoming arms, without absolutely any pre-flight [Covid-19] testing. This is very important,” Chenda Sophea said in a mixed tone.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng told The Post on February 12 that the list of Chinese companies active in the Kingdom has been steadily mounting up, although he acknowledged that the number of Chinese tourists and investors visiting Cambodia remains below pre-Covid levels.

Foreign investors, especially the Chinese, tend to be drawn to the Cambodian market by, among other things, good intergovernmental relations, favourable investment laws, a broad customer base, preferential tariff treatment accorded by a number of countries, relative political stability, and a large labour pool, he noted.

The CCC too has done a lot to showcase Cambodia’s investment opportunities to investors, by promoting exhibitions as well as appropriate meetings and events, he boasted.

Cambodia will emerge as an export-oriented production and processing hub, on the back of continuous infrastructure development, he claimed, stressing that “good political, diplomatic and trade ties will also inspire more Chinese tourists to take a trip to Cambodia”.

During his visit to China, the prime minister conveyed the Cambodian government’s appreciation for the constant support of Chinese officials, investors, businesspeople and other citizens for economic development, trade and investment in Cambodia.

Hun Sen also invited interested Chinese players to visit the Kingdom and explore the investment opportunities available.

According to Customs (GDCE), mainland China once again emerged as Cambodia’s largest merchandise trading partner last year, with a volume of $11.686 billion, marking a 4.39 per cent increase over 2021. Chinese exports to the Kingdom accounted for a staggering 89.38 per cent share of this, up 2.87 percentage points on a yearly basis.

This market represented 22.29 per cent of Cambodia’s total international merchandise trade for the year, which was to the tune of $52.425 billion.

Cambodian exports to and imports from mainland China notched up $1.241 billion and $10.446 billion in 2022, respectively, down 17.85 per cent and up 7.86 per cent on a yearly basis. The Chinese mainland was also the largest exporter to Cambodia.

The Kingdom’s trade deficit with mainland China grew by 12.61 per cent, from $8.174 billion in 2021 to $9.205 billion in 2022, GDCE statistics indicate.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Tourism statistics show that Cambodia welcomed 2.277 million international visitors in 2022, representing a 65.56 per cent drop from the record-breaking 6.611 million of 2019, but an increase by a factor of 11.59 over 2021.

Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million, followed by “business” (431,000) and “others” (79,049) – compared to 5.035 million holiday, 1.371 million business and 204,326 other in 2019.

Although mainland China had accounted for a 35.73 per cent share of all international visitors to the Kingdom in 2019, at 2.362 million (1.299 million holiday; 1.046 million business; 16,254 other), that proportion dropped to just 4.69 per cent last year, or 106,875 (28,837 holiday; 77,595 business; 443 other).