Cambodia (Reuters) – When casino owner Kang Qiang looks out the window of his 20th floor office in this city on the remote Cambodian coast, he sees construction cranes sitting idle.
The Chinese-funded gambling enclave of Sihanoukville has suffered a double blow. Travel restrictions imposed in recent weeks to slow the global coronavirus pandemic have deepened the effects of a ban last year on lucrative online gambling.
But Kang is betting on a future beyond the pandemic, banking on the return of money from China to finish transforming the scrappy frontier town into a gleaming metropolis.
In a sign of his confidence, Kang’s casino has installed gold urinals.
“This city is just starting, there is a lot of potential,” says Kang, 60. “I love it. Sihanoukville gives you a feeling of freedom and no control.”
For Kang and others, the city is like the China of several decades ago – with all of the promise and none of the competition. The current idle is only a blip.
“China is huge, there will always be people interested in Sihanoukville,” says Yin Hongsi, a 30-year-old from Chengdu who hires workers for one of the casinos. “You don’t need to worry if the Chinese will come back.”
The boom town on the Cambodian coast has a deep water port and is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative. In the next three years, Sihanoukville will also host both the Southeast Asian Games and a meeting of regional leaders.
As Chinese money has swept across Southeast Asia, Cambodia has become one of the most visible examples of the investment, with authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen doing all he can to strengthen ties to Beijing.
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