The upcoming Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is crucial for Cambodia to further expand cooperation with China and other participating countries, a Cambodian expert has said.

The Forum will be held from April 25 to 27 in Beijing, and Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen will be among the foreign leaders taking part in the forum.

Neak Chandarith, Director of the Cambodia 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Research Center, said the forum is expected to review the progress made since the first one in May 2017 and to set targets for implementation in the next phase.

“It will provide a good opportunity for Cambodia and all countries participating in the BRI to further expand their cooperation,” he said in a recent interview.

“For Cambodia, it will be an opportune time to discuss and consult with China on how to expand cooperation and to align between the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and the Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy.”

The expert said after the first forum, the BRI has brought many iconic projects to Cambodia such as the first-ever Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, a new Siem Reap International Airport, among others.

“These large projects, along with the (Chinese-invested) Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, will bring a lot of benefits to Cambodia and her people,” he said.

“These will help spur the development of Cambodia by assisting Cambodia from a lower-middle income country to an upper-middle income country by 2030,” he added.

Fruitful Outcomes Expected

Chandarith foresaw that a number of agreements on hard and soft infrastructure development will be signed at the upcoming forum.

“I hope to see more agreements signed between Cambodia and China, focusing on the development of Cambodia’s rural infrastructure, soft infrastructure, and logistics system so as to help connect rural Cambodia with the urban areas, the region and the world,” he said.

The expert said for the next phase, the BRI should focus on institutional capacity building, good governance, and local community participation in order to ensure that the benefits generated from investments are fairly and sustainably distributed.

He said countries participating in BRI cooperation should also initiate projects that focus on enhancing people-to-people connectivity.

Commenting on the BRI’s role in promoting connectivity within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Chandarith said the BRI is expected to strongly support ASEAN in promoting sustainable economic growth through regional infrastructure development.

“The BRI has been providing great benefits to ASEAN, which needs a large amount of capital to realise its Master Plan on Connectivity,” he said.

“I think the BRI will help to accelerate the development of connectivity infrastructure in ASEAN, and this will surely contribute to further enhancing the relations between China and ASEAN,” he said.

BRI Not to Create Debt Trap

Chandarith said the BRI has provided enormous socio-economic benefits to all participating countries, but because local people have not been well informed of the BRI, it is easy for them to get fabricated misinformation.

“I think Chinese investments in infrastructure such as roads, rails, ports, airports and special economic zones are not to create a debt trap; instead, those projects provide huge benefits for socio-economic development in a long term,” he said.

The expert said to make people get the right information about BRI benefits, all countries participating in BRI cooperation should work together to give more information to the people about the projects and their benefits.

Promoting BRI, Sino-Cambodian Ties

Founded in January 2018, the Cambodia 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Research Center aims at conducting research on BRI in three important areas, namely political and security issues, economic and financial matters, and socio-cultural issues, Chandarith said.

“So far, the centre has conducted six research projects covering the three areas, and research results will be published soon,” he said. “Our research will give policy recommendations to policy makers in Cambodia on BRI related issues.”

The Director said the centre also gives lectures on BRI to Cambodian government officials and university students, and to date, the centre has promoted the BRI to some 5,000 students.

The centre also organises regional conferences on BRI and promotes the relations between Cambodia and China by helping Cambodian researchers and scholars understand more about China and Chinese culture.

Sharing his view on the Cambodia-China ties, the expert said the bilateral relationship was elevated to the comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in 2010, and since then, more reciprocal high-level visits have been made and inflow of Chinese investments and tourists has remarkably increased.

“Cambodia-China close ties not only benefit the two countries, but also contribute to maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region,” he said.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.