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Cambodia-US relations under President-elect Joe Biden

Seun Sam / Share:
US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 10, 2020. AFP

The US presidential election was officially held on November 3, 2020.  There were many American citizens who had voted early and by mail-in ballots. Until now, president-elect Joe Biden has received congratulatory messages from many country leaders in Europe and some Asean members.   China  has finally sent her congratulatory message to president-elect Joe Biden.

Cambodia, an independent country and also a member of the Asean community, has not yet sent its congratulatory message to the president-elect. Foreign scholars and Cambodian scholars based abroad claimed that Cambodia is waiting to hear the first message or reaction from China before making a decision whether it should send a congratulatory message to president-elect Joe Biden or not.

It is unfair to allege that  Cambodia is waiting to hear from China first to send a message. Cambodia is not the only country on this globe that has yet to send its congratulatory message to president-elect Joe Biden. There are many more countries. Being a scholar in the of field international studies, one should not be biased in their analysis since it may negatively affect public opinion and can affect those studying the same field.

While Joe Biden will be the future president of the United States of America, there are still many problems before January 20, 2021, when he is officially inaugurated  as the 46th president of the United States. Hopefully, there is no political deadlock as Cambodia faced in the past.

In statuses and comments on Facebook and Twitter, there are many discussions and predictions about the future of Cambodia-US Relations under Mr Biden.

Many Cambodian NGO leaders hope that under the leadership of Mr Biden, the US will pay more attention to human rights and democracy in Cambodia, and they also want the US government to pressure the Cambodian Government on human rights and freedom of expression violations. It is very likely that  they may have put too much hope on the US Government to solve their own problems.  Let recall the first day of the president Barack Obama and his final day as the president of the US.

During President Obama’s administration, Mr Biden served as the vice-president of the US Government for eight years. We have to accept that president Barack Obama is a very eloquent person. The way of delivering speeches by Mr Biden is very similar to President Obama’s.  We can imagine that the foreign policy of Mr Biden will be very similar to President Obama, and he will pay more attention to Asia or we can say that the “Pivot to Asia” policy will be revived. The US alliances in Asia such as Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam will feel very warm if the US has a firm policy for her partners.  The big problem in  US foreign policy is that it always changes under the leadership of each president, therefore it is a bit hard for its alliances to feel comfortable of having eternal relations with the US. The US treat the changes of its foreign policy as a kind of democracy while its alliances treat it as the Big Fear or a Lie to its allies. The different interpretation of  US foreign policy is based on culture and ways of thinking of each country.

Although the foreign policy of Mr Joe Biden is likely to  be very similar to that of  president Obama, there are points that make the President-elect  a bit different from President Obama and President Donald J. Trump. There are big problems that the President-elect will face, including the problem of the COVID 19 pandemic, restoring jobs for those who lost them because of the pandemic, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, UN Human Rights,  political deal with Iran, the international treaty on climate change, and so on.  Keeping popularity as the president of the US is the hardest thing in the world! The US citizens voted for their president today and then criticise their president tomorrow.

At the first mandate of the President-elect will need to tackle the prioritised issues listed above, and if he is lucky to be the president of the US in the second mandate, he will have enough time to talk about small matters, particularly cases related to a small countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Timor-Leste.

As a matter of fact, there are congressmen in the  US who will talk about Cambodian human rights and they will demand the US government to pass sanctions on the Cambodian Government or high ranking officials.

Putting any sanction on the Cambodian Government will push Cambodia to be closer to the Government of the People’s Republic of China.  The US is not perfect, the ten Asean countries are not perfect either, while the EU is also facing their own problems. We cannot expect perfection from the Cambodian Government, so  we should accept the imperfection of each other.

Cambodia still has a very long way to go from now. Look at its infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings, some of them were built in very poor quality.  The internal production capacity is limited, the education system and health care systems are limited. Besides human rights and freedom of expression, there are many priority areas that need support from other countries. Cambodia really needs to improve its internal capacity! Let the citizens of Cambodia make a decision on the fate of their country by themselves.

However, the Royal Government of Cambodia should pay more attention to social injustice and climate change since developing countries usually become the victims of climate change, exacerbated by highly industrialised countries.


Dr. Seun Sam is a researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia. All views in this article are his own.

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