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Cambodian scholars views on Joe Biden’s administration

Sar Socheath / Khmer Times Share:
Pou Sothirak, CICP executive director. Khmer Times

Although the exact time that President-elect Joe Biden will move into the White House is not yet set due to challenges after the election on November 3, some Cambodian scholars have shared their different perspectives over his administration’s policies regarding Cambodia, Asean and even China.

Pou Sothirak, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), said Joe Biden’s administration will build trust and more cooperation with Asean and Cambodia.

“I hope that after Joe Biden takes office, he will seek better relations and cooperation between US-Asean and US-Cambodia, more than the current government,” he told Khmer Times yesterday morning.

Director-general of the International Relations Institute
of Cambodia Kin Phea said the US’ policies regarding Cambodia under Biden will not be much different from Trump’s administration, however, democracy and human rights will be targeted.

“From my point of view, new or current administration’s policies regarding Cambodia will not be so different because Cambodia is a small nation,” he said.

The US never prepares any specific or direct foreign policy to Cambodia, except under Asean’s dialogue partner framework. The US has been interested in Cambodia since China expanded its influence to the region, and when Cambodia became a member of Asean, he added.

This is when the US started thinking about Cambodia and looking at certain strategic and geopolitical aspects, especially under Barack Obama’s administration, when he launched “Pivot to Asia” – the American military and diplomatic “pivot”, or “rebalance” – and also visited the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012.

Under the present administration, the US’ foreign policy regarding Asean has been neglected as President Donald Trump missed two summits and earlier this year his plan to invite Asean leaders
to a summit in Las Vegas in March also fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe that Biden, who was vice president to Obama, will continue the former president’s legacy regarding Asean, including Cambodia,” said Phea.

There has been much speculation on social media that the newly-elected Democratic Party will pay high attention to the current human rights situation and democracy in Cambodia, Phea said.

The Democrat Party’s policies have always focused on three main pillars: economic issues, security and the fundamental principles
of human rights and democracy. That is why every time there is a Democratic US administration, policies always focus on these three pillars, he added.

“I remember Cambodia-US relations during Obama’s administration had some discussion and misunderstanding on the issues of human rights and democracy. But of course, it also depends on Cambodia itself. Cambodia has maintained its values of sovereignty and strong national unity, so the government has been able to overcome these obstacles,” he said.

Regarding these points of view, Sothirak said that human rights, democracy and other global values, including the rule of law, transparency and accountability have been the common concern of US administrations since World War II.

These are the main issues that the US has focussed on for a long time. These are not new concepts, so there is nothing to tighten up. Promoting human rights and democracy is a common value of the US, so there should be no debate about US-Cambodian relations in this regard, he added.

Chheang Vannarith, president of Asian Vision Institute, explained four important aspects of the Biden administration to Khmer Times.

“Firstly, the Biden administration will pay more attention to multilateralism, strengthening the alliance system and restoring American values. Secondly, democracy and human rights will be back to being one of the key foreign policy objectives of the US. Thirdly, Cambodia-US relations will remain stable and the US policy towards China will remain the same. Fourth, there will be a bi-partisan position on China. Strategic competition with China will continue to be tough, but it will be more predictable under Biden,” he added.

Phea expressed his hope that Biden’s administration will lead the US back to multilateralism and internationalism and restore the US’s overall image on the international stage.

“I hope that Biden will create policies that will bring mutual benefits,” he added.


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