The oldest public school in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is in a small courtyard downtown. The Tuan Hoa school has a Chinese temple and Mandarin language classes for its 2,000 students. But in Phnom Penh, Chinese usage is still behind English. This is true although China and Cambodia have a long history together and close political ties.
School Deputy Director Loeung Sokmenh said there are good reasons for students to learn Chinese. They can work as translators or guides for foreign visitors. They also may have the chance to study in China.
Ms. Sokmenh said Chinese tourists, investors and clothing factories are coming to Cambodia, and they need translators.
Across the city is another school called the Zhongchua International school. It is a private, Chinese-run school, which opened last August. Its 200 students can learn Khmer and Mandarin or Khmer and English. A staff member, who did not want to be identified, told VOA that more than half of the Cambodian children take the Khmer-English classes. The Mandarin classes have many Chinese students who are living in Phnom Penh with their parents.
Many more Cambodians are learning English as their preferred second language. This is true although there are close ties between the Chinese and Cambodian governments. The number of Chinese tourists and businesses in Cambodia also is rising.
Hang Chuon Naron is the Cambodian Minister of Education. He said Mandarin lessons help about 100 Cambodian students who get scholarships every year to study at Chinese universities. However, he admits that Chinese instruction is still behind English even with these incentives.
“The Chinese students are very small in number compared to students who study English,” he said.
These days in Cambodia’s capital, western cultural influences still appear dominant. Foreign films, English signs and billboards are seen across the city. Western brands are popular in stores and on the streets.
As China’s economy grows, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron says, so will its influence.
He said, “Chinese [is] the trend of business in Southeast Asia, as most of the business people are speaking Chinese, including those from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.”
Chinese-Cambodian political and economic relations have grown very strong in recent years. Chinese investment has risen steadily. China is one of the largest funders of Cambodian infrastructure projects. Chinese tourists are the second largest group of foreign visitors.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said China will provide aid of $140 million in 2015. That is an increase from $100 million from last year.
These growing economic and political bonds between China and Cambodia do not necessarily lead to stronger cultural ties.
Chheang Vannarith is a professor at Leeds University in Britain. He said China’s cultural influence on Cambodia is not growing. He said that is because Beijing is putting much more effort into military and infrastructure assistance. He said China should do more to support social services and civil society.
“This is a lack of support in China to Cambodia,” said Mr. Vannarith. “China has no policies to support the civil society, but [it does have policies for] assistances from government to government and business to business. China should reconsider that issue in order to improve its image.”
I’m Anne Ball
VOA’s Neou Vannarin and Colin Lovett wrote this story. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
dominant – adj. most common or important
incentive(s) – n. something that helps convince someone to do something such as work harder
infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country or area to function properly.
bonds- n. connections or ties