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King hopes for boost in US relationship under President Biden

Brian Badzmierowski / Khmer Times Share:
King Norodom Sihamoni has sent a congratulatory message to US President Joe Biden. KT/Khem Sovannara

King Norodom Sihamoni sent a congratulatory message to US President Joe Biden yesterday and expressed his confidence that the long-standing relationship between the United States and Cambodia will develop further under his administration.

The King in the royal message dated January 21 said: “The Kingdom of Cambodia has had long-standing relations of friendship and cooperation at bilateral, regional and international levels with the United States of America. I express my confidence that these ties will develop further under Your Excellency’s Administration.”

King Sihamoni said he was certain that Biden would guide Americans “on the path of justice, peace, unity and prosperity”.

“On the auspicious occasion of your Excellency’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America, following an outstanding and historical election, I wish to convey to your Excellency my most sincere congratulations and best wishes for your happiness.”

The congratulatory message was sent after Biden was sworn in as president at the US Capitol in Washington DC on Wednesday.

The switch from former President Donald Trump to Biden could have far-reaching consequences for the world, including in Cambodia.

While Trump spoke out against giving aid to Cambodia – although he later signed a bill granting Cambodia around $85 million in aid, with stipulations – Biden will likely take a different approach, Associate Professor of Diplomacy & World Affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles Sophal Ear said.

But, Ear said, aid offered by a Biden-led presidency may come with even more stipulations, as the Biden presidency would bring a return to America’s mission of upholding democracy and battling for human rights.

This could mean that Cambodia may have to address its alleged human rights issues more than it did during the Trump presidency, he said.

He added that America will become less isolationist over the next four years.

“President Biden will be building foreign alliances. It won’t be “America First” and alone, but America with Europe and the West (Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc), against human rights abuses, the destruction of democracy, and the curtailing of freedom.”

Much of the effects of the Biden presidency on Cambodia will be a result of how the US navigates its relationship with China.

Ear said: “President Biden’s Asia team, led by Kurt Campbell, cares about democracy. Campbell was in charge of Asia under Obama, so it will be a nice return to democratic norms. China will remain a thorn in the US’ relationship with Cambodia, and there won’t be the same light touch as before, under Obama.”

Campbell, who will serve the role of White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, has decades of experience working in Asia.

He was instrumental in increasing American influence in the region starting in the 1990s by building a strong alliance with Japan, according to a Foreign Policy article by Michael Green, a former senior National Security Council official on Asia policy.

Under former President Barack Obama, Campbell took the role of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific and was the main force in a strategic shift in American foreign policy to focus more on Asia, with the goal of checking China’s growing power.

The US’ relationship with China deteriorated under President Trump, who imposed stiff trade tariffs on the country and sanctioned Chinese officials before he left office. In response, China sanctioned 28 officials affiliated with the Trump administration.

But exports from Cambodia to the US increased under Trump because of a Generalised Systems of Preferences trade preference programme, which expired on December 31 but is expected to be renewed by Biden.

Mengly J Quach, the founder of Mengly J Quach Education, said that Biden’s inauguration signifies the end of a torrid four years in Washington and anticipates that the return to a more typical America will be beneficial to the world, including Cambodia.

He said that Cambodia may have to pay more attention to human rights issues which some perceive the country to have, even though as a sovereign nation it doesn’t support foreign interference.

Quach added that Cambodia should cooperate with all nations as it tries to regain its economic footing.

“The economy has experienced significant setbacks due to COVID and other factors. Tourism has been almost completely wiped out. Different sectors such as the garment industry are deeply affected. Many businesses are filing for bankruptcy. The recession is expected to leave lasting scars and reviving the economy will take time. This is the time when we need friends not foes from big countries, from world superpowers, not only China but also America, European countries and other Asean members.”

Concerning Wednesday’s inauguration at the Capitol in Washington DC, US Embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier said: “Inaugurations highlight the peaceful transition of power that is central to our system of governance and demonstrate that our enduring democratic values remain vibrant and strong. As President Biden said, ‘We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security’.”

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