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Clinton Visit Amid Ongoing Improved US Relations

Giant panda Yuan Yuan sleeps next to her baby panda at the Taipei City Zoo, Taiwan.
Giant panda Yuan Yuan sleeps next to her baby panda at the Taipei City Zoo, Taiwan.

The visit of Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to Washington last month marked a significant moment in improved relations between the US and Cambodia.

Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to attend an Asean security forum this month, as well.

“We have many issues to discuss that are of importance to our two nations and regional and global interest as well,” Clinton told journalists in Washington recently.

The Asean Regional Forum, which will be held in Phnom Penh on July 12, will put Southeast Asian ministers with foreign ministers from major powers, like the US. North Korean officials are expected to attend.

As the rotating chair of Asean this year, Cambodia says forging stronger ties with the US benefits both the region and Cambodia, despite its close relationship with China militarily, economically and diplomatically.

“We do not use our good relations to help any power fight another,” Hor Namhong told VOA Khmer in a recent interview. “We want to do our best to balance the relationships between two superpowers to make sure that they contribute within the framework of Asean for the stability of Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific.”

What Cambodia is looking for is more US investors in manufacturing, tourism and agriculture, the main economic drivers of the country. Clinton will bring with her a business delegation for a forum in Siem Reap on July 13.

What the US wants is help resolving the South China Sea issue, which pits China against a number of Asean countries over maritime and mineral rights in the sea.

“The United States’ interest in the South China Sea is to see that international law is followed and that Asean claimant states and that Asean as well enter into peaceful discussions with China and among themselves,” said David Carden, US ambassador to Asean.

The US would also like to see Cambodia improve its rights record. The US says Cambodia remains a country with a human trafficking problem.

The US position on human rights is becoming more important across Southeast Asia, said Ernest Bower, head of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, especially as the youth of Asean begin to “hold their governments more accountable.”

The Asean Regional Forum will provide another opportunity for Cambodia to better integrate into the international community. Experts say the challenge after that will be for Cambodia to hold credible elections next year.