Projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have been helping buffer Cambodia's economic development against the fallout of COVID-19, officials and academics said in recent interviews.
Cambodian government chief spokesman Phay Siphan said BRI projects here like the construction of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, the new Siem Reap international airport, the national stadium, and the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) among others, have provided tremendous benefits to Cambodia's economic development during the pandemic.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, construction of mega projects like the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway and the 700-megawatt power plant in Sihanoukville has made headway steadily, promoting Cambodia's economic development, he said, adding that when completed those projects will play a very important role in helping boost Cambodia's economy in the post-pandemic era.
"The SSEZ has importantly contributed to supporting the country's exports, and all hydropower plants have supplied stable electricity, which is crucial to ensure the normalcy of people's daily lives and businesses," he told Xinhua.
Chinese workers maintain equipment at the lower Stung Russei Chrum hydropower station in Cambodia's southwestern Koh Kong province on March 24, 2020. (China Huadian Lower Stung Russei Chrum Hydroelectric Project (Cambodia) Company Limited/Handout via Xinhua)
Since its inception in 2013, the BRI is becoming the new engine of global economic growth, Siphan said, adding that it has importantly contributed to boosting regional and global cooperation in terms of hard and soft infrastructures, economy, trades, investment opportunities, cultural exchange, and people-to-people connectivity.
Cambodia's economic growth is expected to rebound by 2.5 percent in 2021 after experiencing a contraction of minus 1.9 percent last year, according to the government's latest forecast.
Neak Chandarith, director of the Cambodia 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Research Center, said the BRI projects have played a stabilizing role in anchoring economic development in Cambodia during the pandemic, while there are disruptions elsewhere.
He said, according to an operator's report, the SSEZ saw a rise of 44.51 percent year-on-year in the value of imports and exports reaching 1.185 billion U.S. dollars in the first seven months of 2021.
Meanwhile, the construction of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, which is expected to be completed on schedule despite the pandemic, has created thousands of jobs for Cambodian people.
"The expressway will reduce travel time and cost, and improve the logistics connectivity between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville to the world, thus fueling faster economic growth and alleviation of poverty in the country," he said.
Aerial photo taken on Sept. 20, 2019 shows a view of the Lower Sesan II hydroelectric power station at Sesan District of Stung Treng Province, Cambodia. (Photo by Chen Gang/Xinhua)
"These BRI projects will be the significant contributors to Cambodia's economic development in the post-COVID-19 recovery, as well as to the integration of the Cambodian economy with other economies of the world," Chandarith told Xinhua.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the BRI projects are excellent opportunities for Cambodia, and it is a right development train for Cambodia to board.
He said the development of infrastructure such as roads, rails, airports, seaports, hydropower plants, and special economic or industrial zones under BRI are very important in reducing logistics cost in the kingdom, enhancing economic competitiveness, and diversifying sources of growth.
"BRI also strengthens the economic performance of Cambodia. During and post-COVID-19, BRI projects will play more important role in Cambodia's economic development," Phea said.
He suggested that China continue to help infrastructure development in Cambodia so as to improve its logistics and cost competitiveness for the next stage of development.
Aerial photo taken on May 24, 2021 shows the China-funded national stadium in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. (China State Construction Engineering Corporation/Handout via Xinhua)
He added that human capital development and technology transfer are equally important areas of cooperation for Cambodia to realize its inclusive development goals.
Proposed in 2013, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (BRI) aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute, said BRI has provided huge opportunities for Cambodia to develop its infrastructure as well as deepen its national and regional connectivity, which in turn help Cambodia further integrate into regional logistics and supply chains.
"As China has paid more attention to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards, the quality of BRI projects will improve," he told Xinhua.
He added that the local Cambodian government needs to develop and enforce rules and regulations concerning ESG practices.