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Anticipating an Oil Boom: The “Resource Curse” Thesis in the Play of Cambodian Politics

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By mid-decade, Cambodia will likely begin production of offshore oil fields containing an estimated 700 million to two billion barrels of oil and significant quantities of natural gas. This long anticipated event has prompted considerable discussion of whether petroleum-derived wealth will be a blessing or a curse. Much of the discussion has been framed through the lens of the “resource curse” thesis. The purpose of this article is to consider how the notion of a resource curse has entered the Cambodian political arena and to examine the questions it has prompted Cambodia's ruling elite and external actors to ask concerning the management of petroleum resources. Based on a systematic examination of the evolution of government policy, and of external attempts to shape its development, I show how warnings of a “resource curse” have come to be deployed in different ways by reform promoting aid donors, civil society groups, and the ruling elite. The article concludes by noting that while these warnings have helped to highlight risks associated with the rapid exploitation of petroleum resources, little will or capacity exists either domestically or internationally to transcend technical fixes to the pathologies of petroleum revenue wealth and to press for a more transparent exploitation regime.
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Keywords: CAMBODIA'S RULING ELITE; FOREIGN AID; HUN SEN; OIL BOOM; POLICY REFORM; RESOURCE CURSE THESIS

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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