Yet Xigang isn’t a Chinese city, at least in the geographic sense. Xigangitself is the Chinese name for the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville. Local Gaomian people—known in English as Khmer—have watched their home on the Gulf of Thailand change from a pleasant (if not entirely safe) place frequented by Western gap-year backpackers and beer-swilling sexpats, to what many consider a colonial settlement. A Chinese military presence appears more and more plausible.
With its inclusion in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, Sihanoukville now finds itself firmly in Beijing’s embrace, one that is facilitated by Xi and China’s growing role as benefactor of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. It is an embrace that looks likely to tighten.