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China Duty Free Group Cambodia’s first downtown duty free shop shows the growing influence of China

China Duty Free Group (CDFG) announced early this week that it has invested in a downtown duty free store in Cambodia's cultural capital, Siem Reap. The store should be ready by  December and confirms the inexorable push of China tourism in Cambodia.

SIEM REAP – Tourism has been China’s best weapon to swiftly conquest countries without violence and then turning them into vassal states. This policy has been particularly visible in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and above all in both Laos and Cambodia. While Laos is slowly turning into an economic dependence of its powerful neighbour, Cambodia is China’s most supportive partner within the GMS and the ASEAN. In July 2012, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped in to defend China against ASEAN countries in territorial disputes as Cambodia chaired the ASEAN group for a year. During the same meeting, Foreign Ministers were unable to issue a statement on the same problem due to the refusal of Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to consider it as an “ASEAN” issue.
Of course, China is generously investing in Cambodia, particularly in transport infrastructure  and tourism. China is already Cambodia’s second largest inbound market after Vietnam. In 2013, the total number of Chinese mainlanders to Cambodia reached  is likely to be soon the number one market. During the first five months of 2014. China (excluding Hong Kong) reached a market share of 12.7% of Cambodia’s total international arrivals, the equivalent of 241,000 arrivals (up by 18.9%). In 2013, Chinese travellers’ total was up by 38.7% at 463,000 arrivals. In 2014, it is estimated that total arrivals from China PRC would reach over 550,000 arrivals, especially as many new flights are now linking Cambodia to China.

China is also present in tourism infrastructures with casinos. The largest project to date is a US$3.8 billion complex with a casino named after the fabled Angkor Wat. The city will stretch over 1,300 m2 within a national park. Tianjin Union Development Group, the Chinese developer, promises “extravagant feasting and revelry,” in the midst of Cambodia’s protected rainforest. Tigers, elephants, bears and gibbons which were seen in Botum Sakor National Park in southwest Cambodia will soon be replaced by Chinese gamblers.

More modest is however the entrance of China Duty Free Group, a State-owned company established in 1984, which will have its first overseas operation in Cambodia. CDFG- Cambodia has ambitions to have two stores: “CDFG’s Cambodian subsidiary will firstly start its downtown duty free store of 4,500 square meters in Siem Reap, known as Angkor Duty Free Store, and it will open to the public in December 2014,” the company said in a press statement. “Additionally, CDFG-Cambodia’s second downtown duty free store will be opened continuously in Phnom Penh City in 2015.”

The statement said CDFG is the first corporation awarded a downtown duty free store license from the Cambodian government. Around 200 top luxury brands from all over the world will be offered to travellers.

“I believe that CDFG-Cambodia will become the leading duty free store in Cambodia with the best quality of products and services provided to the customers,” CDFG-Cambodia’s Managing Director John Zhao said, adding that the presence of CDFG-Cambodia will fill the gaps of duty free industry in Cambodia.

Photo caption: Siem Reap downtown.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.