Cambodia Excluded from the Summit for Democracy held by the United States

This combination of pictures shows recent portraits of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) and US President-elect Joe Biden. (AFP)

Taking place in December 2021, the virtual summit will focus on countries’ challenges and commitment to democracy and human rights

PHNOM PENH--Cambodia is not on the list of countries invited by the United States for the first Summit for Democracy that will be hosted by US President Joe Biden on Dec. 9 and 10.

According to the US Department of State, 109 countries as well as representatives of civil society and the private sector have been asked to take part in this event that will be held online.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian government, said on Nov. 26 that he had no information regarding the summit and did not know whether or not Cambodia had been invited.

He then suggested asking the question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

However, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong could not be reached for comment on Nov. 26.

For some researchers, Cambodia not being on the invitation list has not come as a surprise.

Po Sovinda, a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said that Cambodia is often viewed as a one-party state even though there are many political parties taking part in the elections. The absence of Cambodia at this summit will not impact Cambodia as one might think, he said on Nov. 26, adding that many other countries have not been invited.  

The invitation is based on the perceived decline in democracy in those respective countries, Sovinda said. "One cannot say that this decision is biased. After all, the US sees itself as the leader of the democratic world.

"[T]his summit is political in nature and most countries are absent,” he said. “Thus, it is not a big deal for Cambodia." Sovinda added that he is optimistic that Cambodia will accept the invitation if the US does invite the country as the country would have a lot to gain from the summit.

Ro Vannak co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said of the Summit for Democracy that the United States wants to maintain the democratic world order by putting democracy and human rights on its political agenda.

This conference is an effort on the part of the United States to mobilize countries to support and maintain the order that the United States has established to counter Chinese influence, he said.

As for Cambodia not being invited, Vannak said, if the United States assesses Cambodia's democracy based on the Freedom House report, that country will conclude that Cambodia is not yet fully a democratic nation. "If the US measures [Cambodia's democracy] by the Freedom House Report, Cambodia will not be invited to the Summit for Democracy,” he said.

In its report on 195 countries released in March 2021, the NGO Freedom House assessed Cambodia’s global freedom score at 24 percent, that is, not free, and internet freedom score at 43 percent or partially free. The country’s freedom score in 2019 had been 25 percent. 

Moreover, Vannak said, strategic interests may also contribute to Cambodia not being invited: The United States may be inviting strategically positioned countries that serve US interests to curb the influence of China and Russia. "Because the invitees are already set between the liberal bloc or the communist bloc,” he said.

The United States makes it clear that if the countries are not in the liberal order, they must decline the invitation to join its strategic bloc, Vannak said.

In Southeast Asia, the invited countries are East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand are not on the list.

Laos and Vietnam, which are communist states, and Brunei, which is a monarchy, also are not on the list.

This online summit is to be followed by a summit in person in about one year, according to the US Department of State website.

Related Articles