New Migrants from Hong Kong and Macau

New business migrants from Hong Kong and Macau form a small but visible community in Cambodia around 2000 strong. This is often referred to as Gangshang (Hong Kong traders or merchants) by other Chinese migrants in the country. The Gangshang community comprises two groups of business people:

  • • The first is Cambodian Chinese who fled to Hong Kong during the war and moved back when the new government was formed. These Sino-Khmers maintained close links with the local Sino-Khmer community, though they had lived in Hong Kong or Macau for more than 15 years and many had children living in Hong Kong. Their dual identities helped them develop businesses in Cambodia.
  • • The second is businessmen who immigrated from Hong Kong and Macau together with their family business over the past 25 years, mainly (so I am told) because production costs in the Pearl River Delta had increased, whereas post-war Cambodia benefited from a most-favored-nation clause granted by the USA and other Western countries. Many big garment factories moved from the Pearl River Delta to Cambodia, a step warmly welcomed by the Hung Sen government, which needed foreign direct investment.

Some Hong Kong and Macau migrants are in, for example, banking, pharmacy, shipping, catering and as in real estate. However, most are in the garment trade. The Hong Kong and Macau Expatriate and Business Association of Cambodia has 78 corporate members, more than 85 % of whom are in the garment business.

Almost all the businesses established by Hong Kong and Macau new migrants are family owned. They were well established and developed decades before moving to Cambodia in pursuit of cheaper labor and the quota-free system, so they can easily secure orders from clients in Europe and the USA. Most keep their headquarters in Hong Kong, whence they maintain contact with the factories in Cambodia and with clients in the West, while purchasing raw materials and shipping them to Phnom Penh. The patriarch or big boss is based in Cambodia to monitor and control production, while one of his sons (usually the eldest) works in the Hong Kong office. Decisions are made by the patriarch, while senior managers are family members.

As in the case ofTaiwanese companies in Cambodia, the senior managers and engineers are from Hong Kong while middle-level managers and workshop chiefs are from mainland China. Initially, the Hong Kong business migrants had to help the latter get working visas, but now they come to Cambodia on their own and seek employment. To show solidarity within the management, the patriarch invites them, together with middle managers from mainland China, for meals. The workers are Khmers or Sino- Khmers from the villages.

It is not easy for new migrants to set up businesses in a country ravaged by war. Corruption and extortion are rampant and most officials at all levels ask for bribes. New migrants from Hong Kong and Macau, like their counterparts from mainland China and Taiwan, encounter blackmailing and bribe-taking. Nearly all new migrants suffer from the system.

Gangshang business people and other foreign investors frequently experience trouble at the hands of the workers’ union. Cambodia has a large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) financially supported from abroad. They are wealthy and influential, and they get their voices heard. Some NGOs encourage factory workers to form unions and teach them how to negotiate with the factory owners for higher wages and shorter working hours.

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