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Cambodia Wants to be a Good Friend to America

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that relations between Cambodia and the United States have reached a historic high, both in terms of diplomacy and trade. The Prime Minister believes that Cambodia and the United States will be able to mediate on some of the issues and misunderstandings the two countries have with each other.

Speaking in Washington D.C., while addressing more than 2,000 Cambodians living in the US and Canada on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that even though relations between Cambodia and the US have fluctuated, diplomatic relations between the two countries are growing and the US has also become Cambodia's largest trading partner, with total trade volume amounting to more than US $9 billion.

He said that Cambodia wants to be friends with all countries around the world, including the US, and added that there are some points of misunderstanding between the US and Cambodia, in particular, the doubts surrounding the construction of the Ream naval base. Prime Minister Hun Sen previously reaffirmed that this naval base was built to develop and facilitate the docking of Cambodian patrol vessels, and said that Cambodia has no intention of threatening others. He stressed that Cambodia wants to increase its economy, reduce the budget allocated to the national defense sector and divert this money to another sector.

"I had this idea since 1986, when I became the Prime Minister in 1985," said Prime Minister Hun Sen. "I walked along the coast from Koh Kong to Kampong Som to Kampot. At that time, Kep was not created yet. I see today that Cambodians have to rely on Thailand, and Thailand charges fees. They have a place to repair and dock the boats, so we should construct a place like that. Currently, our patrol boats have to be sent to Vietnam to be repaired. Now we are constructing that kind of place, the naval command has been sent to somewhere else, and the maritime space has to be built on a new island instead of the old one. The old maritime space will be used to repair ships. Whichever countries want to enter [the naval base], Cambodia will allow them.”

The Prime Minister said that one of the misunderstandings between the United States and Cambodia is related to the suspension of military exercises between the two countries in 2017. Since then, Cambodia and the United States have not held any military exercises together.

He said, "2017 was an election year, the commune election. I told Defense Minister Tea Banh that there should not be military exercises during the election year. So, we suspended all the exercises, but there was a misunderstanding that Cambodia suspended the exercises with the United States, but still had military exercises with China. This is something that has not been resolved yet. I also do not understand why, and it was difficult, I felt like I had a headache. I can honestly say that I want to be friends with the US, why is it so difficult? If you want to be an enemy, then it will be difficult, but I just want to be friends, why is it so difficult?”

Cambodia-US relations began in 1950, at a time when the world was in the throes of the Cold War. This relationship has been seen as both good and bad from the beginning, as Cambodia and China have gotten closer together, and Cambodia-US relations continue to grow more strained.

Dr. Ear Sophal, an Associate Professor at Arizona State University, and an expert in political science and international affairs, says that he does not believe that US-Cambodia relations can improve any time soon due to Cambodia's growing ties with China. He believes that Cambodia-US relations could be further broken if Cambodia is dominated by China.

He responded to a question from EAC News via email quoting the words of the Political/Economic Chief of the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, Jonathan Turley, who said during the Lunar New Year on 1 Feb that the US is "very committed to the Kingdom's sovereignty. So [they] are naturally concerned when [they] see Cambodian sovereignty being eroded, when [they] see a growing foreign military presence, and when foreign companies contribute to or are involved in corruption violating lands, laborers and environmental regulations.”

Dr. Ear Sophal further added, “We all know the US has only grown more frustrated by Phnom Penh's ever growing proximity to China. There needs to be a decoupling because if they get any closer, Cambodia will be overshadowed by China.”

In contrast to this statement, Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that in regard to Cambodia’s international relations, the Kingdom is interested in being friends with all countries and will not hold bias towards anyone. He stressed that Cambodia must maintain its permanent neutrality, and not choose to support one country and go against another.

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