Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged Cambodians to strive for Chinese-style millionaire status as he inaugurated a sugar refinery located inside two controversial plantations belonging to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat and his wife in Kompong Speu province.
“I have one clear policy in strengthening the capacity of local investors, and that is making Cambodians become rich,” Mr. Hun Sen said in a speech at the inauguration on Thursday.
“Let’s invest in small and big firms. Let’s make Cambodians become millionaires. Only in Cambodia are there no millionaires. In China there are many millionaires, so don’t think that a communist country has no millionaires,” the prime minister continued, adding that foreign investors should feel they have equal access to entering the market when competing with local enterprises.
Mr. Hun Sen said that promoting a wealthy class was the best way to help the poor.
“Make the bosses rich in Cambodia,” he said. “Because when there are problems-for example when people need help with flooding—our local investors contribute a huge amount of money.”
“If a country has no millionaires, where can the poor get their money from?” he asked, adding that he would like to see 500 millionaires doing business in the country.
One such businessman already doing work in Cambodia is Mr. Yong Phat, who the prime minister praised for employing more than 8,000 people at his new sugar refinery.
While Mr. Hun Sen said locals would stand to earn up 20,000 riel ($5) a day working at the factory, human rights groups have accused the surrounding plantations of encroaching on 2,000 hectares of farmland belonging to 1,000 families in Thpong district. Mr. Yong Phat has always maintained that the families have all been fairly compensated for their land.
The senator also owned a sugar refinery and adjacent plantations in Koh Kong province—likewise embroiled by a land dispute with local farmers—until reportedly selling his interests last year.
Those plantations export sugar to the U.K. duty free under a free trade scheme arranged by the European Union.
The European Commission is currently assessing whether or not to investigate the role of the plantations in abusing people’s land rights.
Mr. Hun Sen’s support for Chinese-style wealth comes as Beijing is in the midst of dealing with a number of high profile scandals that have shown voracious officials using their positions to stockpile huge amounts of wealth for their own benefit.