Cambodia Seeks Constructive Participation with US

Prak Sokhonn spoke to Counselor to the US State Department Derek Chollet by phone on Nov. 23.

Prak Sokhonn says relationship on track

PHNOM PENH--Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn says he wants to see the United States engage in constructive and close cooperation with Cambodia that enhances mutual trust.

Speaking to Counselor to the US State Department Derek Chollet by phone on Nov. 23, Prak Sokhonn said Cambodia had always valued its relationship with the US despite difficulties and that the relationship was on the right track and was helping to improve various areas in Cambodia.

The areas of development include trade and investment, health, agriculture, culture, demining, peacekeeping missions, the search for the remains of missing US soldiers during the war, repatriation of Cambodians from the US, and Peace Corps volunteers, Sokhonn said.

The two sides agreed to continue to promote friendly relations and further expand cooperation in all potential areas, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Nov. 24. The talks focused on bilateral and regional issues of common concern and interest.

Ro Vannak, a foreign policy expert and a co-founder of the Cambodia Institute for Democracy (CID), said that to encourage the US to engage constructively and closely, Cambodia has to show real intent in participating in the US mission to promote democracy and respect for human rights.

“The history shows that the relationship between the US and Cambodia has been up and down based on the actual political situations of Cambodia and US,” he said.

“When the CNRP was dissolved and the government silenced the critical voices using judicial power, Cambodia has been walking against democracy, and the relationship of Cambodia and the US has deteriorated.”

He said the close ties between Cambodia and China are also a factor on which the US is putting pressure on Cambodia, as the superpowers compete for their interests and power in southeast Asia.

“The US has accused Cambodia of having close relations with China. In international politics, the US requires you to choose between the liberal and communist world. So, when you choose China, you will become hostile to the US automatically,” Vannak said.

US foreign policy toward the Southeast Asian region and China also influences future relations between Cambodia and US, Vannak added, stressing Cambodia is a region caught in the middle of geopolitical strategy.

Vannak, however, still sees the positivity of the relationship between Cambodia and the US in future if Cambodian democracy and rule of law move forward to a healthy zone.

Flexibility as chair of ASEAN 2022

During the same discussion, Sokhonn told Chollet about Cambodia's role as chair of ASEAN in 2022 and that Cambodia has set priorities and challenges that need to be addressed carefully to strengthen ASEAN's centrality and resilience, in particular to promote efforts to build the ASEAN community and maintain peace, stability, and security in and outside Southeast Asia.

The chairmanship of Cambodia for ASEAN 2022 gives a positive image and shows that Cambodia has enough potential for international political jurisdiction to prepare for this summit, Vannak said.

However, Cambodia would also be under pressure from the US and China and that ties between the US and Cambodia would be affected further.

“When one superpower wants to set an agenda of its politics to serve its political interests, it will affect the interest of the other superpower. If China has strong political power in Cambodia or the region, it can affect the interests of the US in the region,” he said.

Vannak suggested Cambodia be flexible and smart to dodge the pressure of the superpowers but he still expected that the US and Cambodia will stay on good terms in the interests of their citizens.


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