Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday requested Japan deliver a message to the United States saying that Cambodia is still willing to salvage its relationship with the US, a government official said yesterday.
Mr Hun Sen is currently in Tokyo to attend Nikkei’s International Conference on the Future of Asia.
Kao Kim Hourn, Delegate Minister Attached to the Prime Minister, yesterday said the request was made during a meeting with Takahashi Fumiaki, president of the Japan-Cambodia Association and a former Japanese ambassador to Cambodia.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia does not want to make enemies,” Mr Kim Hourn said. “We always want to make friends with all countries, including the US.”
“Cambodia requires them to respect our independence and sovereignty,” he added.
The US-Cambodia relationship has been deteriorating due to perceived democratic and human rights setbacks, and accusations that the US colluded with former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who is awaiting trial on treason charges, to topple the government.
Last year, the US imposed financial sanctions against Mr Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit commander General Hing Bun Hieng over his alleged involvement in human rights abuses.
In January, US senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons introduced the Cambodian Trade Act of 2019, which would require the US government to review preferential trade treatment Cambodia receives under the Generalised System of Preferences scheme.
Government officials said the moves infringe upon Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty.
Mr Kim Hourn said critics accuse Cambodia of abandoning US relations for closer ties with China, but he said that the government wants a relationship with the US.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen requested Takahashi Fumiaki to bring the message to the US,” he said. “Cambodia still wants to be good friends with the US.”
“He also clarified that the notion that Cambodia has abandoned the US to become China’s ally is wrong,” Mr Kim Hourn added.
US embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes declined to comment yesterday.
In a 2017 interview with Voice of America, William Heidt, who was then the US ambassador, said the Cambodian government never wanted good relations with the US.
“Since I came, let’s be honest, the Khmer government has taken a lot of steps against the US,” Mr Heidt said at the time. “So I feel like there’s never been an honest desire by the Khmer government to have a good relationship with the United States.”
During a question and answer session on Asia’s Future yesterday, Mr Hun Sen was asked by Nikkei Asia Review about the US-China trade war and its impact on Cambodia.
Mr Hun Sen said that countries should strive for a win-win solution.
“No one waits for death by sanctions,” he said. “Asia shall not be an ant for an elephant to stand on.”
“We will find ways to escape the trade war,” Mr Hun Sen added.
He also defended the dissolution of the CNRP in 2017 and compared it to the resignation of Austria’s Freedom Party ministers amidst a video scandal involving Russia.
“Cambodia just took legal action against those who committed treason,” he said. “I urge other countries to respect legal methods in Cambodia.”
“It is an injustice for Cambodia when they try to interfere in the way our laws are implemented,” Mr Hun Sen added. “I announce today that the Kingdom will continue to take action against those accused [of treason].”
Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath yesterday said the example Mr Hun Sen used was inaccurate.
“I think the political situation in Austria is different from us because [Austrian politicians] had specific plans to side with Russia to win the next election,” Mr Chanrath said. “We did not collude with any foreign countries to overthrow the government.”