Cambodia has recently demonstrated one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. While scholars have long explored the drivers of tropical forest loss, the case of Cambodia offers particular insights into the role of the state where transnational governance and regional integration are increasingly the norm. Given the significant role logging rents play in Cambodia’s post-conflict state formation, this article explores the contemporary regime and its ongoing codependent relationship with forested land. Insights are distilled from comparative analysis of illicit logging in two ethnographic case studies. Both involve foreign investments by state-owned companies – a Chinese-backed hydropower dam and Vietnamese owned rubber concessions – and both are nestled in prominent conservation landscapes that are managed with international donor support. Together, the cases reveal how Cambodia’s current timber extraction regime works through the use and abuse of legal mechanisms associated with forest conservation and foreign investment projects, and the mobilization of elite alliances that log both for private gain and in service of the ruling party’s interests. By implication, the government’s remarkable facilitation of transnational projects for conservation and development must be reappraised and ultimately seen as constitutive of a predatory and extractive regime that continues to rely heavily upon illicit logging revenues.
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