United States President Donald Trump said in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen that the US respects the Kingdom’s sovereignty, noting that it does not support regime change within the country.
In a letter from Mr Trump delivered to Mr Hun Sen by US Ambassador Patrick Murphy on Thursday, Mr Trump said that the US remains committed to a future of peace, stability and prosperity for the Cambodian people.
“In recent years, the United States’ relationship with the Kingdom of Cambodia has encountered difficulties, but our estrangement does not serve the interests of American and Cambodian people,” Mr Trump said.
Cambodia-US relations began to deteriorate in the lead up to last year’s national election after the opposition CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017 and its leader Kem Sokha was arrested and accused of colluding with the US to overthrow the government.
The US government then imposed visa restrictions on senior Cambodian government officials accused of violating human rights and undermining democracy in the Kingdom.
Mr Trump went on to note that the US respects the Kingdom’s sovereignty.
“For that reason, I wish to take this opportunity to underscore to you that the United States respects the sovereign will of Cambodian people and we do not seek regime change. My administration seeks a relationship with your government based on mutual respect,” he wrote. “The United States will continue to express our core belief that a commitment to democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law constitutes the best path to peace, stability, and prosperity for all nations.”
“It is important for the future of our bilateral relationship that you put Cambodia back on the path of democratic governance,” he added. “As a first step, I hope you will re-evaluate certain decisions taken by your government that the US firmly believes puts at great risk the Kingdom’s long-term sovereignty, stability, and economic development.”
Mr Trump also noted in the letter that the US has supported and invested in Cambodia since the early days of Cambodia’s emergence from civil war.
He said the US has worked constructively with the Cambodian government, including through support for the country’s military and security services.
“The United States believes that a peaceful and prosperous Cambodia can be a force for good,” he said.
Mr Trump has also invited the leaders of Asean to join him in the US for a special summit in early 2020, noting that it will provide the opportunity to broaden and deepen cooperation on matters of great importance to the nearly one billion people in the US and Asean nations.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday regarded Mr Trump’s letter as a historic milestone in mending ties between both countries.
“It is the first time in the last 60 years that the US president sent such a letter to us. That is a new chapter for our relationship,” Mr Siphan said. “It is historic milestone that the US recognised the sovereign will of the Cambodian people who exercised their rights through the election.”
“It reflects that the Trump administration is committed not to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs,” he added.
Mr Siphan also brushed aside Mr Trump’s concerns raised in the letter.
“We will not become a political tool of any foreign country. His message is just advisory,” Mr Siphan said. “We are strengthening our sovereignty and cooperate with China, and the US, and other nations.”
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said Mr Trump’s message is both positive and negative.
“What the US government wants to see is the sovereign will of Cambodians respected,” he said. “It means that they want the Kingdom to improve democracy.”
Mr Phea added that the Trump administration is still concerned about the Kingdom becoming closer with China.
“The message also reflects that the US government is concerned Cambodia is losing its sovereignty to the other superpower…it is concerned the Kingdom is moving too close to China,” he said.