Cambodian opposition members say they are worried about the country becoming too dependent on aid money from China.
Beijing recently pledged more than $500 million in aid for Cambodia, which needs about $1 billion in foreign aid each year to operate the government. Phnom Penh's foreign debt currently stands at about $9 billion.
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay said opposition officials worry excessive debt to foreign countries, including China, could drag down Cambodia’s economic growth.
“If [Cambodia] depends on one’s aid money to be able to govern the country, that means we can lose part of our economic independence," said Son Chhay.
Critics also say the aid money should be handled and spent in a more transparent manner.
Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University, said Chinese aid comes with “no strings attached,” but it also has no benchmarks for reform, such as in human rights or the judiciary, as Western aid does.
“Chinese aid is big actually, but the quality of the aid, as we have seen, is difficult [to know]. For the kingdom of Cambodia when we need to develop, to sustain the economy, to show firmness, we need aid," said Sok Touch. "But Chinese aid, we have seen that it lacks of transparency in bidding with the public and the spending of this aid."
Governmental goals cited
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia is strengthening its economy ahead of ASEAN integration next year. Roads, bridges, electricity and water have been priorities, he said, and now human resources will be a focus.
“We have prepared what is called the debt ceiling to manage the public debts. So we have our proper plans and what we borrow from foreigners, we define our goal so that we are able to pay them back. We borrow in accordance to our GDP growth,” he said.
He added that Cambodia needs foreign aid for investments that will help make it more competitive internationally.
But Son Chhay said the country can do with less aid if it does better collecting money for itself in taxes, and by stopping corrupt practices by government officials.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.