China-aided 2023 SEA Games stadium symbolises close Sino-Cambodian ties

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The stadium is ready to host Cambodia’s maiden Southeast Asian Games in 2023. SUPPLIED

Travelling along National Road 5 in the north of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, tourists can easily spot a mammoth sailing ship-shaped structure – the China-funded Morodok Techo National Stadium.

The 60,000-seat stadium will be the centrepiece venue for tournaments when Cambodia hosts the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games for the first time in May 2023.

Developed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) under China grant aid, the project started in August 2017 and was fully completed last month.

A ceremony marking the handing over of the stadium to Cambodia was held on September 12 in the presence of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen and visiting Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Modern, innovative design

Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon, who is also the president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said the stadium is a great achievement in the Kingdom’s sports sector and a new symbol of the unbreakable friendship between both nations.

The 39.9-metre structure is built in the shape of a sailing ship – with both of its prows 99 metres tall – and is encircled by an Angkor era-style moat.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The magnificent sailing ship-shaped Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh. SUPPLIED

“The sailing ship symbolises the long-standing traditional friendship between Cambodia and China because Chinese people used to travel by sailing ships to Cambodia in ancient times,” Thong Khon said.

He said the prows of the sailing ship-like stadium depict the “Sampeah” gesture – the placing of both palms together in a prayer-like fashion as a greeting or a way of showing respect in the Kingdom – which truly reflects Cambodian culture and tradition.

Covering a 16-hectare parcel in the 85-hectare Morodok Techo National Sports Complex, the five-storey stadium has been constructed with advanced technology and high-quality materials, Khon said.

“The CSCEC was very responsible and used high-end technology for the construction of the stadium in full compliance with all technical standards.

“The stadium has a seating capacity of 60,000, with a design that will allow a full evacuation in seven minutes in case of emergency,” he said.

He added that QR codes have also been installed on each seat.

Located some 18km from the centre of Phnom Penh in the northern part of the capital, the stadium houses a hotel, food courts, sportswear and equipment shops, and other facilities.

“It will not only support the development of sport, but also serve as a magnet to attract tourists, especially Chinese guests, to Cambodia in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era,” Khon said.

‘Ironclad friendship’

The stadium is a significant project between Cambodia and China under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aiming at promoting sport, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contact.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Speaking at the event, Hun Sen said the stadium was “the fruit” of close cooperation between Cambodia and China.

“It’s a new record of the ironclad friendship between Cambodia and China. Without support from China, we would definitely not have this stadium.

“I can say that this is just the fruit harvested at the beginning of the season through our ironclad friendship,” Hun Sen said.

Meanwhile, Wang said the stadium was the largest sports complex that China had ever provided to a foreign friend with grants.

“We built this nice large stadium in Cambodia because our two peoples’ friendship is very profound.

“I hope that Cambodian people and athletes will enjoy their sports events at this stadium, and I hope that Cambodian athletes will make more achievements in the 2023 SEA Games,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian government chief spokesman Phay Siphan said the stadium clearly demonstrated China’s particular attention to supporting Cambodia’s sports development.

“The stadium will serve as another bridge to connect the hearts of the peoples of our two countries.

“It will also promote people-to-people bonding between Cambodia and the rest of the world because it will bring together athletes and visitors from around the globe when there are major tournaments,” Siphan said.

Raising Cambodia’s profile

Cambodia Football Federation secretary-general Keo Sareth said the stadium has not only injected fresh impetus into the Sino-Cambodian ties but also improved Cambodia’s image internationally.

“We had wished to build a modern and large stadium like this for a long time. Now, with China’s support, our dream comes true. It will promote Cambodia’s honour and prestige in the international arena,” Sareth said.

National sprinter Pen Sokong, 28, said he admired China for funding the development of the beautiful stadium, saying that it will be a great treasure for Cambodia.

“It’s a pride for Cambodia because in our history, we have never had such a great stadium,” he said.

Mao Pengfei and Nguon Sovan