Posted on Leave a comment

What is next for Cambodia-US Relations after the visit of Lloyd Austin?

The U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin came to visit Cambodia on June 4, 2024, after his visit to Singapore to participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue which is the world-famous forum inviting leaders from around the world to participate and address issues that are happening in their countries as well as in the world.

The U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Cambodia caused different expectations and different interpretations among Cambodian scholars as well as Cambodian politicians. Cambodian people who believe that the US will still be the only main market for Cambodia to export products of Cambodia deem that it is very important to welcome the visit of the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss on important topics that are beneficial for Cambodia and the US, whereas people who believe that the US will come to Cambodia just for their own benefits think that Lloyd Austin came to Cambodia to ask about topics that are not related to Cambodia since the US officials who came to Cambodia always raised questions that are not related to Cambodia and the US but Cambodia-China Relations or about Chinese military in Cambodia.

US officials who come to visit Cambodia should only raise questions that are personally related to Cambodia-US relations because each visit and each meeting always lasts a few hours, so that talking on the related topics that are crucial for Cambodia and US are pretty important for both countries.

Cambodia and the US had established diplomatic ties on July 11, 1950, the relations of both countries always go-up-and-down. There are different interpretations between politicians in Cambodia and politicians in the US. Some of Cambodian politicians think that the US is the only country that led Cambodia to face challenges and created tragedies for Cambodia and then asked Cambodia to pay money which the US spent to buy weapons to kill Cambodian citizens. The US side thinks that Cambodia is just a small country which has a very close relations with China and never wants to have a good relation with the US.

The former prime minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, in 2022 said during the US-ASEAN Summit in 2022 that “Why is it so difficult for me if I just want to be a good ally of the US”? It means that Cambodia also wants to be friend with the US and other countries, not only China.

Both the US and Cambodia think differently from each other, and most of the time they do not have enough discussion with each other but let media and other countries to incite the relations of both countries. The US expects too much from Cambodia, the US always expects all the good things from Cambodia such as full human rights respect, one hundred percent democracy, and all good things which the US themselves could not make.

Cambodia always wants the US to listen to its concerns and understand challenges as well as requirements for the social development in Cambodia. Cambodia is a small country which maintains good relations with many countries in the world including Australia, the US, South Korea, Japan, China, and ASEAN countries but Cambodia is always treated as a China client-state due to some countries being worried too much about China and then try to find ways to hit a small country like Cambodia.

There are many unfair things that take place for Cambodia but Cambodia could not explain its real situation to the world since this small country did not invest enough on human resources, especially did not support scholars who are able to talk about the real situations of Cambodia to the world. Cambodia should adjust its nomination system and should encourage more qualified officials to work in the right places. Especially, the Cambodian government should encourage Cambodian scholars to be able to depict real situations to the outside world, not only talking among Cambodian people but the outside world too.

Some people may do not like it but it is real: the US is one of the great partners for Cambodia which the Government should have closer relations with since the US is still the main market for Cambodia to sell products, and the US has a lot of important technologies which can help Cambodia improve social development and human resources. The US can help Cambodia to maintain its relations with other countries, so that Cambodia should learn from the history when there is a wrong decision in foreign policy, and when Cambodia cut off diplomatic relations with the US on May 3, 1965.

There are a lot of hopes and optimism from the Cambodian side after the visit of Lloyd Austin since both sides had agreed on important issues such as military cooperation and resumption of scholarship for Cambodian students to study in the military section in the US.

All in all, both Cambodia and the US should talk face to face with each other and should just talk on the topics that are personally related to Cambodia and US since one of the disturbing topics for the relations between Cambodia-US in the past is that there are always questions about China-Cambodia Relations and about Chinese military in Cambodia. The US should understand the requirements of Cambodia and then invest on that requirement rather than interrogation but nothing for Cambodia. At this time Cambodia needs both lecture and also the gift because Cambodia is a developing country which still needs to develop in many fields. Both Cambodia and the US should listen to understand and go back to the drawing board when they first established the diplomatic ties during the tough time for Cambodia in 1950.

Dr. Seun Sam is a policy analyst at the Royal Academy of Cambodia. All views in this article are his own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *