China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is facilitating massive infrastructure investment globally. Yet little is known about the BRI's local impacts, especially in countries like Cambodia where regulations are weak and government enthusiasm for the BRI is high. This article examines a set of BRI-linked investments in rural Cambodia, involving five agro-industrial concessions and a sugar-processing factory. We explore how these investments interacted with the local political economy and land governance. We find that, despite being couched in rhetoric of opportunity and progress, the investments caused Indigenous and Khmer villagers to lose access to customary land and forest resources, with disastrous consequences for livelihoods and the environment. We invoke Tsing's 'economy of appearances' to suggest that generation of speculative value is a key aspect of the BRI. This case confirms that 'development' of this kind can instigate and accelerate local dispossession, while failing to deliver on grandiose promises.