Cambodia inaugurates new Chinese-funded airport serving popular tourist destination of Angkor Wat

Cambodia inaugurates new Chinese-funded airport serving popular tourist destination of Angkor Wat

16 Nov    AP, Finance News, PMN Business

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SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia on Thursday inaugurated its newest and biggest airport, a Chinese-financed project meant to serve as an upgraded gateway to the country’s major tourist attraction, the centuries-old Angkor Wat temple complex in the northwestern province of Siem Reap.

The Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport is located on 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of land about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Angkor Wat and boasts a 3,600-meter- (11,810-foot) long runway. It can handle 7 million passengers a year, with plans to augment it to handle 12 million passengers annually from 2040.

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The airport began operations Oct. 16, with the first flight to land coming from neighboring Thailand. The old airport it replaces was about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the famous tourist site.

Thursday’s inauguration was presided over by Prime Minister Hun Manet, Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian, the governor of China’s Yunnan province, Wang Yubo, and other officials.

Speaking at the ceremony, Hun Manet said the old airport was located too close to the Angkor temples and it was feared that vibrations from passing flights were damaging their foundations.

Tourism is one of the main pillars supporting Cambodia’s economy. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia received some 3.5 million international tourists in the first eight months of 2023, while for the whole of 2019 — the last year before the coronavirus pandemic — it received some 6.6 million foreign visitors.

“Hopefully, 2024 will be the year of the beginning of the advance and rebirth of the tourism sector in our Siem Reap province,” Hun Manet said.

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China is Cambodia’s most important ally and benefactor, with strong influence in its economy, shown by numerous Chinese-funded projects, hotels and casinos in the capital, Phnom Penh, and elsewhere around the country. China’s state banks have financed airports, roads and other infrastructure built with Chinese loans. More than 40% of Cambodia’s $10 billion in foreign debt is owed to China.

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The new airport, built at a cost of about $1.1 billion, was financed by Angkor International Airport (Cambodia) Co., Ltd., an affiliate of China’s Yunnan Investment Holdings Ltd, under a 55-year build-operate-transfer deal.

Yunnan governor Wang Yubo, speaking for the Chinese government, said the airport’s launch showed the deep friendship between the people of the two countries, while promoting bilateral economic ties.

The project is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the ambitious program that involves Chinese companies building transportation, energy and other infrastructure overseas funded by Chinese development bank loans. Its goal is to grow trade and the economy by improving China’s connections with the rest of the world in a 21st-century version of the Silk Road trading routes from China to the Middle East and onto Europe.

Another Chinese-funded airport is being constructed at a cost of $1.5 billion to serve the capital. The new Phnom Penh international airport, formally known as the Techo International Airport, is set on 2,600 hectares (6,425 acres) and scheduled for completion in 2024.

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Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang reported from Phnom Penh.

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