Chinese firms make inroads in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - A Chinese firm began construction Tuesday on a hydropower dam in Cambodia worth nearly half a billion dollars, part of an influx of Chinese aid and investment in the small, South-East Asian nation.
The dam is being constructed on the Russey Chrum River in coastal Koh Kong province over the next four years at an estimated cost of 495 million dollars, the Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported.
It is one of the largest foreign investments in Cambodia to date. China's state-owned Huadian Corp has a 38-year lease on the project.
The groundbreaking ceremony, attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, followed an agreement signed last month during a state visit by China's top legislator, Wu Bangguo, for China to invest 1.6 billion dollars in 23 infrastructure projects in Cambodia over the next five years.
Among the proposed projects is the Sambor dam on the Mekong River. Environmentalists have warned that it and other dams planned for the Mekong could destroy the livelihoods of more than 1 million fisheries-dependent Cambodians and have called on the government to produce more thorough environmental impact assessments ahead of hydropower projects.

Hun Sen brushed off these concerns at the ceremony Tuesday.
'Is there any development that comes without an impact on the environment and natural resources?' he said in Koh Kong, the Post reported. 'Please give us a proper answer.'
China and Cambodia have grown increasingly close in recent years, as Beijing has become by far the largest source of foreign investment in the country.
Much of Beijing's investment and aid goes straight to Chinese companies overseeing infrastructure projects, Donald Weatherbee, a professor of South-East Asian politics from the University of South Carolina, told the US Congress in testimony this year.
Hun Sen, a strongman who has been in power for more than 25 years, has praised the Chinese for offering assistance and investment without harping on human rights.
'China respects Cambodian decisions,' the prime minister said. 'They talk less but do more.'

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