Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday responded to a letter sent by President Donald Trump last week by saying he was keen to improve bilateral relations and hoped to move past the “dark chapters” of their shared history.
The prime minister wrote his own letter, dated November 26, 2019, in response to a letter sent by President Trump and delivered by U.S. Ambassador W Patrick Murphy last week. In that letter, Trump said the U.S. was looking to restore bilateral relations and was not pushing for a regime change.
Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.
“I am of the view that we should not become hostage of a few dark chapters of our own history,” Hun Sen writes in the letter. “There are so many other beautiful chapters that are worth nourishing for the greater good of both of our countries and people.”
The Cambodian government has routinely accused the United States of orchestrating an alleged color revolution to overthrow the government. It used this so-called revolution narrative to dissolve the opposition party in 2017, jail opposition leader Kem Sokha, and crackdown on NGOs and independent media organizations.
Hun Sen’s letter called for the creation of a working group with member from both countries, with the aim of discussing ways to improve bilateral relations.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan confirmed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would lead the efforts to revitalize the bilateral relations but was unaware of what steps would be taken to achieve that goal.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg said discussions would continue on how best to serve the Cambodian people, but, at the same time, ensuring that there was an opening of the political and civic space in the country.
President Trump’s letter also called on Cambodia to correct decisions it had taken recently and to return to the democratic path. However, Hun Sen’s letter does not address these concerns and only talks about the successes of Cambodia’s nascent democracy.
Ear Sophal, an associate professor on Diplomacy and World Affairs at the Occidental College in Los Angeles, said it was clear the prime minister was sidestepping calls to correct long-standing domestic issues and was clearly eager to improve relations without having to make any concessions.
“Obviously Phnom Penh does not think that what has happened in Cambodia is the demolition of democracy,” Ear Sophal said. “The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. The letter from Hun Sen does no such thing.”