BRI projects help the Kingdom to cushion economic fallout during Covid-19 pandemic

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The Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway. SUPPLIED

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 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 impacts 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 normality of people’s daily lives and businesses,” he told 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 per cent this year after experiencing a contraction of minus 1.9 per cent 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 stabilising 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 per cent year-on-year in the value of imports and exports reaching $1.185 billion in the first seven months of this year.

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 Cambodians.

“The expressway will reduce travel time and costs, and improve the logistics connectivity between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville to the world, thus fuelling faster economic growth and alleviation of poverty in the country.

“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.

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The Lower Sesan II Dam. SUPPLIED

He said the development of infrastructure such as roads, rails, airports, seaports, hydropower plants, and special economic or industrial zones under BRI are key in reducing logistics costs 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.

He added that human capital development and technology transfers are equally important areas of cooperation for Cambodia to realise 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.

Mao Pengfei and Nguon Sovan