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I nside a lavishly decorated casino where chandeliers hang from the ceiling, cigarette smoke lingers in the air and platters of mango are served to gamblers, a game of baccarat is getting heated. This is not Las Vegas, nor is it Macau. It is Sihanoukville, a once-sleepy city in Cambodia that has become a ballooning enclave for Chinese-run casinos — despite gambling being banned. These towering skyscrapers and vast domed structures covered in flashing neon signs have transformed Sihanoukville beyond recognition in less than two years.
It will have more than 70 of them by the end of It is meant to be a 21st-century "silk road", made up of a "belt" of overland corridors including roads, bridges and railways and a maritime "road" of shipping lanes. Its wider ambitions are harder to pin down. Is it a bid by China for world domination, or simply a move to prop up Chinese companies at home? Is there a grand strategy, or is it just a rebranding of existing projects? Nick Van Mead.
Read more: Cities of the New Silk Road. Vast Chinese-run construction projects are visible across almost every area of the city and its high streets are now lined with majority-Chinese businesses and restaurants. Beyond Sihanoukville, belt and road money is financing a new highway to Phnom Penh and a bigger airport in the capital. The speed of development has left many locals unnerved.
This fear has fuelled rising hostility among locals towards the new influx of Chinese residents. The two communities live side-by-side in Sihanoukville but rarely interact. Sitting outside her family restaurant and guesthouse in Otres beach, year-old Deu Dy gestures with concern to the huge Chinese resort complex being built next door.
It has gone up in less than a year, with construction 24 hours a day. There will be no Cambodia left in Sihanoukville. Like many local business owners in the city, she is regularly approached by Chinese investors wanting to buy her inn and offering her very good money. While not directly funded by Belt and Road money, the casinos and condo complexes are a byproduct of a city that has given itself over entirely to Chinese investment.