PHNOM PENH: The Minister of Public Works and Transport, Senior Minister Sun Chanthol, has said that there is no Chinese debt trap problem in Cambodia, adding that China is not trying to control other countries that have to pay off their debts.
Speaking at a press conference on the inspection visit of the Third Ring Road on Tuesday afternoon, 28 February 2023, Senior Minister Sun Chanthol said, "Debt to China is not a trap, the country is helping to stimulate economic development."
He added that comparisons made between Cambodia and Sri Lanka are wrong, because some of the media coverage on China's control of Sri Lanka’s ports have made people confused about China’s presence in the Kingdom.
"Some people have accused China of lending money to instigate a debt trap, some say it is like Sri Lanka, as Sri Lanka has no money to pay China back and China seized their port," he said. "This is wrong again, because Sri Lanka’s management is not very good. The Chinese side that lends this money come to take control and make a profit, they are taking their money back, they are not capturing the port for the sake of controlling another country’s port!"
"[Sri Lanka] is an independent country that does not belong to China, but [China] can come and help manage [the port] to earn money to pay them back," he added.
According to a report on Cambodia's public debt, as of the third quarter of 2022, Cambodia is currently more than US $9.4 billion in foreign debt, of which 41% is owed to China.
Senior Minister Sun Chanthol added that Cambodia's debt situation was not bad as these debts did not reach 40% of the country's gross domestic product.
"Cambodia [has a debt] below 40%, it is maybe 30% or 34%," he said. "The government is not borrowing money to buy a car or show off its luxuries, the increase [in borrowing] is a national investment.”
At the same time, he said that Cambodia is preparing to build the Phnom Penh-Bavet Expressway and is studying the build of a Phnom Penh-Siem Reap Expressway as well. In addition, a company has requested to study the construction of a Phnom Penh-Poipet Expressway.
He added that all expressway projects are strictly 'government-free' and do not guarantee help in paying off the debt of these private companies.
"We do not guarantee help, the companies must borrow by themselves," he said. "If they are able to borrow, then they should do it. [If the company loses money] and asks the government for help, we guarantee that our government absolutely will not be trapped."
The Senior Minister stressed that the leadership of the Royal Government by Prime Minister Hun Sen has ensured careful consideration of debt and national development, hence, Cambodia has been able to achieve prosperity and stability both socially and economically.