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Further Thawing of Cambodia-US Relations

Phnom Penh: The relationship between Phnom Penh and Washington appears to be back on track after an escalation of tensions in June. On Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn attended an ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference attended by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. The meeting came a day after the pair successfully co-chaired the 2nd Mekong-US Partnership Meeting. Judging by statements made by the Foreign Ministry, it appears the diplomatic relationship between Cambodia and the United States has been reset.

The outcomes of Minister Prak Sokhonn’s discussions with his ASEAN counterparts and the US were released on Thursday and the tone of the statement is upbeat. In it, he welcomed the US’ “efforts to increase the momentum of its relations with ASEAN, especially through the implementation of the ASEAN-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement”.

He went on to highlight the important role of the ASEAN-Business Council (ABC) in promoting trade and investment with the US and also thanked Washington for its contribution of one million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, emphasizing “the importance of promoting friendly relations between Cambodia and the US in these challenging times.”

The word “friendly” was also used by the Prime Minister last week, when he also thanked the US for the vaccines, describing it as a “friendly country”, along with the UK, Japan and China. It’s certainly a far cry from where relations were back in June, when a visit by Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, ignited something of a diplomatic incident. She requested – and was granted – permission to send a fact-finding team to Ream Naval Base to put Washington’s worries about an alleged Chinese naval base to rest. The visit ended abruptly with the US Embassy complaining it had not been granted “full access” to what is a military base owned by a sovereign country. The US has not mentioned Ream Naval base again.

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