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.

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