Carol Rodley became Cambodia’s ambassador in October 2008. In an interview with VOA Khmer in March, she discussed the growing relationship between Cambodia and the US, on topics ranging from the Khmer Rouge tribunal to the global financial crisis. Below is the first of a six-part series resulting from the interview.]
Q. We are making history here. The United States has elected the first African-American as president. Ambassador Scot Marciel is the first US Ambassador to Asean. And you are the first female US Ambassador to Cambodia.
A. It is of course a very exciting time for America, with the historical election of Barack Obama as president, and it’s very exciting to be representing America overseas at a time like this, because people all around the world seem to be very excited about his presidency. As far as being the first female ambassador of the United States in Cambodia, I can only say that I was very glad to come here and find a number of other female colleagues in the diplomatic corps. The Australian ambassador is a woman. The Chinese ambassador is a woman. The ambassador of Singapore is also a woman. It’s a brave new world.
Q. You were the former deputy chief of mission from 1997 to 2000. How did that experience prepare you to be the US ambassador to Cambodia?
A. It gave me a chance to get to know the Cambodian people, to know Cambodian history, to travel to the countryside and see for myself what’s going on, and it really just inspired in me a real love for Cambodia, for Cambodian culture and especially for the Cambodian people, who are very warm, friendly, open and easy to get to know.
Q. Have Cambodia and its people changed since you were here last time?
A. Yes, in some very interesting ways. What I find is that in 2009 Cambodians are much more confident; they know more about the world outside Cambodia. They are more connected to the outside world through the Internet, through studies abroad, through travel, through music and the arts. So they have become much more integrated with the rest of the world, and they have become noticeably more confident and more optimistic about the future. I would say they have become more forward looking. In the past people were very focused on the past. That’s understandable, because Cambodia went through a very hard time. But now I find Cambodia very much focused on the future. Of course, it’s such a young country [that] I think having a future focus with such a young population is a very natural thing.
Q. You have met with many high-ranking Cambodian officials since you arrived. What is your overall assessment of Cambodia?
A. Many of the officials I met, I consider them my friends. I knew them from when I was in Cambodia before. So it has been very good to renew those friendships and those relationships, and I find [the officials] working very hard. They are very focused on development across the board, in all ministries. It’s clear that the real priority of this government is development. I find them taking very seriously the global financial downturn and working hard on plans to weather the rough financial times ahead.
Q. Is Cambodia less affected in some ways?
A. The banking sector has almost no exposure to what we call the “toxic securities” that have caused such difficulty in the US banking sector and in some other developing countries and trading partners that have invested heavily in US securities or in the US mortgages. So Cambodia has been insulated a little bit in that area. But since the United States is Cambodia’s main export market—over 60 percent of all Cambodian exports go to the United States—the downturn in the American economy has had an inevitable and noticeable effect on the Cambodian economy. When Americans stop buying T-shirts, Cambodian garment factories are in a lot of trouble. And a number of them have closed already because demands are down.