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New Migrants from Neighboring ASEAN Countries

Ethnic Chinese from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Singapore and Malaysia in particular, also came to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Their numbers are estimated at around 2000. Like the Taiwanese, they are mostly businessmen and include some wealthy tycoons. The most active businessmen are likely to be Chinese Malaysians and Singaporeans. Chinese business migrants from these two countries have established their own commercial associations.

They tend to maintain a low profile. Nexus Naga Hotel presents a good example. The hotel is the biggest luxury hotel in Cambodia. It is owned by Ariston, a little-known company in Malaysia, and its boss is a Malaysian Chinese named Chen Lip Keong. The Ariston Company has close ties to the Cambodian government, so the Malaysian Chinese tycoon was able to secure a special license from the authorities to run a casino in Phnom Penh.

New Migrants from Mainland China

In the early 1990s, Chinese business migrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and the ASEAN countries were the major players in Cambodia’s economy, but new migrants from mainland China have come to dominate the Chinese community during the last decade, at least demographically.

A local-born Chinese journalist based in Phnom Penh, Mr. Li, who has close ties with different Chinese migrant groups, said:

The new migrants from mainland China are mostly from Zhejiang, Sichuan, Hunan and Guangxi, followed by Guangdong, the Northeast (Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang), Hubei, Henan, Chongqing, Shanghai, Yunnan, Beijing and Fujian. The earliest migrants are the Fujianese, who came in the early 1990s.

According to Li, between 1992 and 1996, 20,000-30,000 Fujianese worked in garment factories owned by Taiwanese. They came not to settle down but as a stepping-stone to the USA. However, the smuggling of migrants by way of Cambodia came to an end in 1997 as a result of US action. New migrants from Zhejiang began arriving in 1999, and their numbers peaked between 2002 and 2004, at 20,000-30,000. Currently at least 5000 Zhejiangese work in the grocery trade. Those from Hunan mainly work in farming. Those from Hubei, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi are small traders, and most Beijingese are engineers and technicians. Some 500 Henanese work in garment factories. The northeasterners number around 2000 and are mostly female, aged late 20s to early 40s. Many work in the sex trade.2

Nobody knows exactly how many new migrants from mainland China live and work in Cambodia. Some Cambodian officials say there are more than 40,000 mainland Chinese in the country, but embassy officials and leaders of associations put the figure at more than 100,000. Journalists familiar with Chinese migrant groups put the figure at 150,000-200,000, of whom around 60,000 are illegal.

Unlike new Chinese migrants to developed countries, those in Cambodia are diverse. They include bankers, investors, businessmen, small traders, restaurant owners, schoolteachers, doctors and nurses, journalists and skilled laborers, as well as farmers, fishermen, miners, prostitutes and even refugees (see Table 9.1). Their monthly incomes also vary, as shown in Table 9.2.

Some are nouveaux riches. The owner of Nexus Naga Hotel is an example. He was formerly a senior Chinese People’s Liberation Army adviser working in the Cambodian army who built up a range of connections with Khmer officials, whence his business success. He remains aloof from his compatriots and keeps a low profile.

Table 9.1 Origins and occupations of mainland Chinese migrants

Origin

Occupation

Anhui

Traders and peddlers

Beijing

Clinics and hospitals; engineers and technicians

Fujian

Management in garment factories

Guangdong

Aquiculture; Chinese language teachers; media and journalism

Guangdong: Teochew

Farming and gardening

Guangxi

Clinics and hospitals; traders and peddlers; Chinese language teachers; media and journalism

Hebei

Forestry and logging

Hubei

Farming of rice, vegetables, and mushrooms

Hunan

Farming of rice, vegetables, and mushrooms

Northeastern China

Massage and sex industry

(women)

Shanghai

Traders and peddlers

Shandong

Forestry and logging

Sichuan

Chinese language teachers; media and journalism; traders and peddlers

Yunnan

Chinese language teachers; media and journalism; forestry and logging

Zhejiang: Zhuji, Ningbo, Shaoxing

Technicians; management in garment factories

Zhejiang: Qingtian

Import, wholesale, supermarket

Source: Author’s compilation

Table 9.2 Monthly income of mainland Chinese migrants in Cambodia

Occupations

Monthly income (USD)

Factory workers

500-600

Factory management

600-1500

Private taxi drivers

1000-1500

Engineers

1000-1500

Massage workers and nightclub dancers

500-1500

Chinese language teachers

250-300 (teaching 20-24 hours per week)

Source: Author’s compilation

 
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