Cambodia-US Relations Obstacles and Future Directions

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Currently, there is some tension in the relationship between Cambodia and the US. The two nations have historically had a difficult relationship, especially during the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The human rights record and ties between China and Cambodia have drawn concern from the US. The relationship between the US and Cambodia has recently been damaged by a number of factors. The issues that have arisen in relations between Cambodia and the US are outlined below.

Political repression: The Cambodian government has been accused of suppressing the opposition and civil society. The dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, ahead of the 2018 general election created widespread concerns about the democratic process in Cambodia. The US and EU countries had strongly expressed their reactions towards the Cambodian Government while Cambodia’s Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed that Cambodia just followed throughs its national laws to protect security and stability as well as peace in Cambodia.

Human rights abuses: There have been reports of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detentions, which have been criticized by the US government and human rights organizations but Cambodia’s Government has repeatedly claimed that the US government and NGOs that work on human rights issues are strongly biased against Cambodia and they do not clearly understand about Cambodia, they just write what they want to write in order to defame Cambodia.

Tariffs: In 2019, Cambodia was hit with tariffs on some of its exports to the US, such as garments and footwear, amid concerns about labor rights violations and trade imbalances. Under Biden’s administration the US Government does not resume its GSP for Cambodia at all.

Chinese influence: According to the US government, Cambodia has become more and more reliant on China for political and economic support, which some believe could jeopardize US strategic interests in the region. The US government is concerned about Cambodia becoming too close to China while ignoring Cambodia’s needs. Instead of sitting back and criticizing Cambodia for moving closer to China, the US administration should support Cambodia and recognize the requirements of Cambodia in every situation.

South China Sea disputes: Cambodia has been criticized for its alignment with China in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which has put it at odds with some of its ASEAN neighbors and the US. Each related country in ASEAN just cares about their own benefits and they want to push Cambodia to be in trouble with China while they also could not tackle the issues related to the South China Sea Issue.

These issues above have contributed to a tense relationship between the two countries, although there have been attempts to improve ties, such as the recent appointment of a new US ambassador to Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia sometime said that Cambodia really wants to have a smooth relation with the US but the US does not give their hands to Cambodia and there are too many conditions for Cambodia only just to be a good friend with the US.

Improving US-Cambodian relations can be a complex task that requires a range of approaches to address the underlying issues that have led to tensions between the two countries. Here are some potential strategies that could be pursued to improve relations between the two countries.

Strengthen diplomatic ties: Cambodia and the United States have a history of diplomatic cooperation, and it is important to maintain and strengthen these ties. Leaders from both countries should engage in regular high-level diplomatic meetings to discuss shared interests and areas of disagreement. There should have a face-to-face discussion when there is a tension between the two countries, the role of media is very important but having verbal discussion should be the first priority.

Increase economic cooperation: Increased economic cooperation can help to improve relations by building a stronger foundation of shared interests and mutual dependency. The US could explore opportunities to invest in Cambodia’s infrastructure, particularly in rural areas where development is needed most. Similarly, Cambodia could work on improving its investment climate to attract more US businesspeople. For many times the US Ambassador to Cambodia has mentioned about improving Cambodia’s business law. Cambodian government should look within to find its weaknesses before calling for foreign investors to invest in Cambodia because foreign investors have always searched for information and atmosphere of the country where they will come to make business.

Address human rights concerns: The US has criticized Cambodia’s government for its suppression of the press and opposition parties. In order to improve relations, Cambodia could take steps to improve its human rights record, lifting restrictions on the media, and enabling civil society organizations to operate freely through the laws of Cambodia. There is always a problem in every step but keeping some space for those who have different ideas from the Government is also important for Cambodia to attract foreign governments to think positively about Cambodia.

Increase people-to-people exchanges: Building relationships between the peoples of the two countries can help to foster greater understanding and trust. The US and Cambodia could work together to increase opportunities for cultural exchanges, educational programs and tourism. The future prime minister of Cambodia gained education in the US, the US should be proud of those who gained education in the US and then return home to work in the important position.

In order to discover workable solutions to bolster their ties, it is crucial that both the US and Cambodia approach their relationship with mutual respect and a desire to participate in productive discourse. Understanding one another’s cultures, political systems, geopolitical contexts, and needs is crucial to enhancing relations between the US and Cambodia. Sincere dialogue and face-to-face interaction are the cornerstones of appreciating one another’s differences.

Source: KHMER Times