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7 decades of ups and downs in Cambodia – US relations

7 decades of ups and downs in Cambodia - US relations 4

7 decades of ups and downs in Cambodia – US relations

Since first establishing diplomatic relations in 1950, the US and Cambodia have witnessed many disturbances, instability and ups and downs, having severed and then restored relations in 1965 and 1969 respectively, due to

During the Cold War, US-Cambodia relations were seriously affected by major differences in foreign policy.

In 1993, the two countries established comprehensive diplomatic relations after the Royal Cambodian government was established in free general elections.

According to data from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the country provided about 235 million USD in governance support in Cambodia from 1993 to 2018. In fiscal year 2018, the estimated amount of water aid

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) shakes hands with then-US President Barack Obama at the US-ASEAN summit in California in February 2016.

US aid and priorities in Cambodia largely focus on strengthening democratic institutions, increasing bilateral trade and investment, supporting economic development, reducing poverty, and improving public health.

The US is said to also want to find ways to cooperate militarily with Cambodia, through US naval port visits, military support and training for Cambodian forces, as well as joint exercises.

In 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Cambodia, marking the warmest period in bilateral relations.

At the end of 2019, Patrick Murphy was appointed US ambassador to Cambodia and worked to promote bilateral relations.

To consolidate this new momentum, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn announced his strong support for the US-led Lower Mekong Initiative, and said Phnom Penh `looks forward` to cooperating with the US ambassador.

Former politician Pou Sothirak, director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said that for both Phnom Penh and Washington, the decision to appoint Murphy seemed to represent an opportunity to improve relations after a period of gradual coldness.

`China’s seemingly unconditional support for Cambodia makes the US worry about the risk that Phnom Penh is willing to agree, even actively support Beijing’s views on key issues in the region. The US also

In addition to the decision to appoint ambassador Murphy, another notable positive sign took place at the US-ASEAN conference in August 2019, when Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state at that time, praised Cambodia for `protecting

However, expectations about US-Cambodia relations later seemed to not come true, with a series of tense developments over the past year.

In September 2020, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against real estate developer Union Development Group (UDG), a Chinese state-owned company, for activities related to construction projects in Koh Samui province.

Washington believes that this project deployed on a 36,000-hectare coastal area `could be used to receive (Chinese) military assets`, `threatening the stability of the Indian Ocean –

In October 2020, the Center for International Strategic Studies (CSIS) published satellite images showing the tactical command headquarters of the Cambodian National Maritime Security Committee, a US-funded project at the naval base.

7 decades of ups and downs in Cambodia - US relations

Satellite photos taken on August 22, 2020 (left) and October 1, 2020 (right) show that the building built by the US at Cambodia’s Ream naval base has disappeared.

Meanwhile, Cambodia explained the decision to demolish it because the building was old.

On June 1, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led a delegation to Cambodia to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen to discuss bilateral cooperation issues. The visit is expected to breathe new life into the two countries’ relationship.

However, in Cambodia, Ms. Sherman `expressed serious concerns` about Beijing’s role at the Ream base, located southeast of the port city of Sihanoukville.

In October, the US embassy in Cambodia continued to accuse the country of lacking transparency about China’s construction activities at the Ream base, after satellite images showed new structures appearing.

The most recent tension in US-Cambodia relations occurred on December 8, when the US State Department added Cambodia to the list of banned weapons exports, for `continuing to allow China to expand its military presence and

In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the Cambodian military to destroy or lock away American weapons, saying that many sides who used them lost.

Despite a series of signs of tension, John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, assesses that the US and Cambodia still have a chance to improve relations in the future.

He pointed out that Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son and the Cambodian Prime Minister included in his list of potential candidates to succeed him, is likely to play an important role in helping improve relations between Washington and Phnom Penh.

Meanwhile, former Cambodian politician Sothirak assessed that the strategic competition between China and the US poses many challenges for Cambodia as well as many other countries in the region.

`The US should avoid the zero-sum approach of proving that it is China’s strategic rival. This will only lead to Beijing’s more aggressive policies in the region. They should also stop adjusting their policies

`Meanwhile, Cambodia should maintain neutrality by not siding with any major power, or making moves that cause skepticism,` Sothirak said.

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