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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Globalization in Cambodia: A Mixed Bag (Part II of III)

by Jeff Cook

Cambodia's storied history has left an indelible mark and some would say a huge void in certain areas.  Part of Cambodia's history includes a period of French colonization.  This lasted until the middle of the 20th century and vestiges of that relationship remain in architecture, language, and legal structures.  But French culture no longer predominates in Cambodian society; Khmer people have a very rich and lively culture that is all their own.  Nevertheless, external influences still remain.  Today the tide of influence has turned from colonization to strategic political and economic partnerships.  And no country has positioned itself better in Cambodia in politics and economics than Korea.  When the Prime Minister of Korea visited a few weeks ago, the Cambodian government did everything but declare a national holiday for the visit.  And there was good reason for visiting Cambodia.  Korea is the second largest investor in Cambodia and its seventh biggest trading partner.  Korea has even pledged to help Cambodia open a stock exchange by the end of the year.  In addition, Korean construction companies are developing much of the prime real estate in Phnom Penh, including a 52-story building -- the tallest in the country.

The economic development that has resulted from the partnership between these two countries has been a great asset to Cambodia.  Along with the officers, managers and economic advisers from Korea, the awareness of Cambodia in Korea coupled with the inexpensiveness and convenience of visiting (daily direct flights to and from Seoul) has resulted in a huge influx of tourists.

But not all tourism is created equal.  Certain less-savory businesses have arisen catering to sex tourists.  It is not that Koreans make up all, or even a majority, of the sex tourists in Cambodia.  (In fact, most of the customers are locals, and westerners are very visible presence.)  But a sophisticated method of catering to sex tourists from other countries in Asia, including Korea, has arisen that is unique from those catering to Western sex tourists.  Indeed, group packages are being sold to meet the new demand, and the result is a network of brothels that have close ties with hotels/clubs/karaoke establishments/etc. These establishments in turn work with tour operators to provide all-inclusive sex tours.  In Cambodia, running a brothel is illegal, so this increase in demand is troubling news.  But even more troubling is the difficulty for anyone but pre-booked clients to gain access to the individuals working in the brothels.  Without access, it is impossible to tell whether these women have been trafficked or are working there voluntarily.  It is equally difficult to determine if and how many minors are being exploited through these sex tours.  This new market is one of the unfortunate consequences of globalization bringing more wealth and demand for illegal enterprise into a country than the acting law enforcement agents are capable of managing.  Although reining in these new enterprises seems a steep uphill climb, God's providence provides a firm footing from which to begin the traverse.