US Defense Chief Arrives for First Official Visit

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Senate President Hun Sen on June 4. Photo: Samdech Hun Sen of Cambodia via telegram

PHNOM PENH – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin​ is in Cambodia for his first official visit to cement defense relationships with the new government. 

He arrived in Phnom Penh on a C-17 Globemaster III military aircraft on the morning of June 4 for a one-day visit which the National Defense Ministry called “historic”.

The visit is happening as Cambodia prepares to assume the role of country coordinator for ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations from 2024 to 2027.

It will be the first time Austin has met the new generation of leaders, most of them being the offspring of former ministers, since they took office in August 2023.

During the visit, Austin met Senate President Hun Sen and was due to meet Prime Minister Hun Manet and Defense Minister Tea Seiha.

“The visit will continue to strengthen and expand the 70-year relationship between Cambodia and the US, especially through the push of cooperation between the two governments,” the ministry said.

In 2022, Austin met then-defense minister Tea Banh during the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting  in Siem Reap province.

During the visit, he said the Cambodian-US defense relationship had deteriorated over time. The US reiterated its concerns earlier this year, saying its military relations with Cambodia were “not very good.”

On June 2, Tea Seiha was in Singapore for the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue where he met other defense ministers, such as those from China and Singapore.

With China’s Defense Minister Dong Jun, Tea Seiha pledged to further strengthen the relationship with China and invited Dong Jun to officially visit Cambodia.

Meanwhile, Dong Jun said Seiha could be the future leader of the two armies and continue to lead the friendship and cooperation.

On May 30, Cambodia and China concluded the annual joint drill on counterterrorism and humanitarian aid​, involving over 2,000 troops and 14 ships, while Cambodia in 2017 canceled the annual US-Cambodia military drill, called “the Angkor Sentinel Exercise,” citing the communal elections and the six-month campaign to combat drug and crime as the reasons.

As of May 2024, the exercise has still not resumed.

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