• Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen with China's President Xi Jinping

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen with China's President Xi Jinping (Photo : Getty Images News)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the use of Chinese-donated funds in constructing a soccer stadium in the country's capital of Phnom Penh, as key to improving the lives of Cambodians.

During a groundbreaking ceremony for the soccer stadium, the Morodok Techo National Sport Complex--which expected to be a showpiece attraction--Hun waived claims that the estimated $157 million allocated for the project would be better spent on other infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

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The LYP Group of Cambodian People's Party (CPP) senator Ly Yong Phat will construct the stadium.

The Prime Minister said that they would lead "Cambodia to host the SEA Games," referring to the Southeast Asia biennial sporting event involving 11 nations. Cambodia, which joined the SEA Games in 1961, will finally be hosting the event in 2023.

Political commentator Meas Ny, while acknowledging the importance of sports in nation building, emphasized that the government must consider other sectors, too.

The Morodok Techo stadium is part of the 2,000-hectare Garden City development project of the LYP Group.

Last December, LYP Group signed a deal with another Chinese entity, the China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG), for a $1.5 billion project called the " Cambodia-China Friendship City" on a 550-hectare land within Garden City. The project, which includes hotels, a convention center, a golf course, amusement parks, schools and logistics centers, will be started this year.

David Van, local managing director of the Bower Group Asia, said that the investment was too large for Cambodia's small market. Van, who added that Cambodia is not ready for such a "giant project" since Cambodian consumers are "not yet that sophisticated," lamented that there are many projects in the country where billions of dollars in investment are committed that are not completed.

The secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Sok Chenda Sophea, noted that the deal was the result of a mid-October state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Cambodia.

Last September, Hun led a group of Cambodian representatives to the First Cambodia-China Trade and Investment Forum in Nanning city, Guangxi Province. The visit resulted in China pledging to import 200,000 metric tons of rice from Cambodia annually beginning 2017, which is double the current volume.