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The 'Chinazation' of Cambodia

China's deepening economic presence is bringing progress -- but at what cost?

A new Chinese-built bridge, on the right, spans the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, running parallel to the bridge Japan helped construct in the 1960s. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

HONG KONG/PHNOM PENH Just a few blocks from the Royal Palace, in the traditional heart of downtown Phnom Penh, sits one of Cambodia's most renowned Chinese schools. Over the past century, the Tuan Hoa School has witnessed the many ups and downs of the capital. Today, it has front-row seats to an unprecedented boom.

Run by a local ethnic Chinese organization, the school is one of the largest Mandarin-speaking elementary and junior high schools outside China and Taiwan. It currently has more than 11,000 students, including those at its branch campus. For Loeung Sokmenh, headmaster of the main campus, things have improved to an astonishing degree. She has been a faculty member there since the school reopened in 1992 after being forced to close in 1970. Those intervening years saw the tumult that accompanied a U.S.-supported coup headed by Marshal Lon Nol, the devastating rule of the China-backed Pol Pot regime and the subsequent invasion by Vietnam.

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