Tourism Infrastructure Construction Under the Belt and Road Initiative Along Indochina: An Analysis of Cambodia’s State-level Policy; And Policy Recommendations for Vietnam and Laos
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Officially introduced in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has gained much attention and response from the international community due to its massive geographic and economic scope. The initiative focuses on establishing a network of international trade routes connecting Asia, Europe and Africa through a variety of infrastructural projects backed by China. The implementation of BRI facilitates global transportation, flows of resources and human-to-human exchange, which are all the impetus for tourism development. On the other hand, tourism is integrated in the Action Plan of BRI as important pillar to the successful realisation of the initiative. This study aimed at gaining better understanding of BRI tourism investments in Indochina countries, one of the strategic areas of cooperation under BRI’s framework. It also sought to analyse the state-level policies of recipient countries in response to BRI investments, and the consequences of such policies on social groups and on tourism development. The study was underpinned by a relativist epistemology and a constructivist paradigm. A qualitative, case study approach was adopted to explore the impacts of BRI and recipient countries’ state-level policies following the implementation of the initiative. Two case studies were selected for this research, which were the Golden Silver Gulf Resort and Dara Sakor Seashore Resort in Cambodia. The rationale behind these cases was that they were among the most significant investment projects in tourism under BRI framework, yet they had not been properly examined from the tourism perspective. The research utilised secondary data for the analysis; and adopted the conventional content analysis approach. This research was carried out based on the process of a policy analysis which included two major steps: problem analysis and outcome analysis. The Social Construction Framework served as the main theoretical framework for the evaluation of policy outcomes. The study concluded that among the three Indochina countries, Cambodia was the most enthusiastic partner in the development and implementation of BRI, while Laos remained supportive and Vietnam is still cautious. Facing the problem of inadequate infrastructure, Cambodia had embraced the initiative, formulating policies that favoured the interest of the Chinese investors over the needs of the country and its people. The examination of the case studies showed that such policies disproportionately allocated economic benefits and political advantages to the Chinese investors, while created burdens for the local residents living in concession areas and the local business; and limited the social power of the non-governmental groups. Another outcome was that these investments likely created more problems for Cambodia, in terms of economic leakage from tourism activities and environmental issues, rather than bringing actual economic impacts. The study suggested that governments should carry out more comprehensive and systematic planning and management strategies, while improving governmental transparency and promoting decentralization in order to take full advantages of BRI cooperation opportunities and avoid negative consequences of Chinese investments.