Panel 04 (Ehring)
Chinese and Japanese Infrastructure Investment in Sihanoukville (Cambodia)
Michael Ehring, M.A. (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Sihanoukville in Cambodia has become a main target of international investment in the last decade. Not only China’s Belt and Road Initiative BRI, but also its Japanese counterpart, the Free and Open Indo-pacific Initiative FOIP invest large sums into Sihanoukville’s infrastructure development. The interesting part about this case study on Sihanoukville is the constellation of two rivalling systemic geo-economic and geopolitical initiatives in a fierce competition. The municipal area, including the heart-piece, Cambodia’s only deep-sea port, have undergone a drastic change. Once depending on local, and backpacking tourism, Sihanoukville turned into a trading hub, and a gambling mecca before the onset of the global Covid pandemic. Thousands of migrant workers are being sent to construct and work at Special Economic Zones SEZ, leading to a complete change not only in municipal, but also in social infrastructure. While China’s BRI and Japan’s FOIP claim to bring prosperity and improvement of life along to a plethora of connectivity enhancing features on a general level, these features are deemed as promising as they are risky by media (e.g., Phnom Penh Post, Southeast Asia Globe) and other critical voices, who warn about negative effects on the livelihood of a broader public. One prominent point of critique when dealing with FDI and investment in a broader context, is concerning foreign investors, and a small margin of local elites as the only benefactors. BRI as well as FOIP act under the light of traditional Sino-Japanese rivalry, and each country’s unique historical connection to the receiving state, Cambodia. Thus, the official narrative of the giving, as well as the receiving party might provide valuable insight if dealt with as a dependant variable through the lens of Asian Studies. The analysis shall be juxtaposed to the independent variable, which are processed interviews with citizens of Sihanoukville. The candidates to be interviewed should represent operative authorities, for instance employers and employees at the deep-sea port, at Chinese or Japanese SEZ, and on the other hand vulnerable groups, such as Cambodian port workers, families, and mothers, and Chinese or Japanese migrant workers. The outcome will be the first systematic approach to a comparison of trilingual official narratives to individual experiences of affected social groups in the context of BRI and FOIP infrastructure engagement.
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