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Cambodia and the US should forgive and forget and support each other

Seun Sam / Share:
US ambassador and Cambodian officials marks the 70th Anniversary of Cambodia and US relation on July 11, 2020, at Royal Academy of Cambodia. Supplied

The United States of America and Cambodia are located very far from each other and the skin colour, attitude, behaviour, language, culture, tradition, political system and histories of the two countries are totally different.

Although the US is located very far away from Cambodia, it was among countries that have established diplomatic relations with Cambodia before any other in the region including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, China, and other Asean members. The US started diplomatic relations with Cambodia when Cambodia was still under French colonial rule and it played a very important role in assisting Cambodia to fully get independence from France.

The United States began diplomatic relations with Cambodia on July 11, 1950, so this year is the 70th anniversary, making it reasonable that they should know each other enough to understand each other. Vietnam, the neighbouring country of Cambodia, established diplomatic ties with Cambodia in 1967, 17 years behind the US. Laos, another neighbor of Cambodia, established diplomatic ties with Cambodia in 1956, six years behind the US. Thailand established its modern relations with Cambodia on 19 December 1950, a few months behind the US. China, the US’ competitor, began its post-independence diplomatic relations with Cambodia in July 1958, eight years behind the US.

There have been many challenges in Cambodia-US relations because of the difference of interpretation of each situation related to the two countries – and sometimes it happens because of the trends of each ambassador of the US in Cambodia and Cambodia does not necessarily follow through the recommendations or suggestions made by the US representatives or government. The US and Cambodia need to accept the differences in the political system of one another because culture, tradition and the histories of the two countries are quite different. This includes the differences in mindset and habit, political system and political leadership.

The geopolitics of Cambodia and capacity of Cambodian people in productivity or skills are also the main reasons leading the US to not pay much attention to Cambodia, even the US-supported Cambodia at the beginning, but when there are cases related to national benefits, the US has to leave Cambodia in the disaster as seen during Khmer Rouge regime.  China had done the same to Cambodia; China left Cambodia to be under the control of Vietnam after the clashes at the border of Vietnam-China for one week.

According to Michael Haas’ book “Cambodia, Pol Pot, and the United States” published in 1991, on page 85, it was claimed that “The Soviet Union wanted detentes with China and the United States so that it could recover from economic chaos; it was unilaterally prepared to stop providing supplies to the state of Cambodia (SOC) and Vietnam for the war in Cambodia. Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia unconditionally, preferring to attract outside aid and trade in order to overcome its status as one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. China, which fell into an economic depression when the world imposed a boycott and embargo after the mid-1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, agreed to drop the Khmer Rouge and even wanted to avoid a quarrel with Vietnam over conflicting claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands by offering to allow exploration for oil in case the dispute lacked practical consequences. Thailand wanted an Indochina of marketplaces rather than battlefields, so it was willing to opt for peace when Vietnamese troops left Cambodia. Presumably, Pol Pot was promised exile in China.”

The above quotation clearly shows that Cambodia cannot wait for help or support from outsiders all the time, but Cambodia needs to strengthen solidarity among Cambodian compatriots and strengthen its production capacities, education quality, and military power. Cambodia needs to use its geopolitics in a smart and careful way.

After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, and before the start of the Paris Peace Agreement, the United States, together with other concerning countries, played very important roles in facilitating all Cambodian sides to negotiate in solving Cambodia’s issues. The US also kept working with the Cambodian government for the development and prosperity in Cambodia.  The Cambodian conflict was a learning experience for all, proving the harmfulness of cold war modes of thinking about world politics.

The Cambodian government nowadays has smart foreign policies. Cambodia has created and kept good relationships with many countries, but its economy and production capacity are still limited. That’s why some countries did not take serious consideration in making business in Cambodia. Furthermore, electricity in Cambodia is still expensive; road conditions still need to be improved.

Phnom Penh is a small city compared with the cities of other Asean countries. We can see trash or garbage on roads or elsewhere in the cities and towns. The Cambodian government should impose serious restrictions on those who throw trash in public. Local authorities should be encouraged to fine those who carelessly throw waste in public places. The local authorities should be allowed to use money which is taken from people who throw garbage to develop their community.

Starting from 1950 to 2020, it is 70 years for the official relations of Cambodia and the US. Both countries should try to understand one another more and should always recall the first memories of helping and supporting each other. It is like a husband and wife who love each other the most. Sometimes they have arguments because of misunderstanding about one specific case, but they still can live together because they can tolerate and forgive one another.  The US and Cambodia also should forgive each other and try to improve their relationship.


Seun Sam is the public relations officer of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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