PHNOM PENH —
A U.S. budget proposal could see aid to Cambodia cut drastically if approved as the Trump administration seeks to merge the State Department with its aid body, USAID, and more closely tie foreign development assistance to national security interests.
A leaked copy of the proposal, published by Foreign Policy magazine on Monday, details plans to completely eliminate all development assistance to Cambodia in 2018, down from a 2016 spending level of $34.5 million, and drastically reduce health programs in the country.
An $8 million fund to support business development in Cambodia would also be dissolved under the plans.
President Donald Trump’s planned cuts would follow a broad slashing of government budgets in March, however, the proposed foreign assistance budget has met stiff opposition and is still a long way from becoming a reality.
A Cambodian government spokesman, Phay Siphan, said the cuts were not surprising given that “the United States is dealing with a financial crisis, too.”
“When our economy grows well, aid assistance becomes less important, so donors eventually stop funding. We can live on our own,” he said, adding that the cuts, if they were approved, would affect NGOs more than government programs.
Thida Khus, director of public policy NGO Silaka, said if the proposal was approved it would reflect a lack of care for countries in the region.
She added that there were other sources of funding that the civil society sector could turn to if U.S. funding was stopped.
Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum, a think tank, said he was concerned by the possibility that such a move could push Cambodia further into the arms of its biggest backer, China.
“The imbalance in [Cambodia’s] international relations could risk Cambodia losing its trading partners,” he said.
Son Chhay, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s chief whip, said the proposed budget would have a serious impact on the country’s poor.
“Perhaps it [the United States] will only help countries that have a good relationship with the United States,” he said. “Or perhaps it’s Cambodian policy that she doesn’t need help from the U.S.”
Jay Raman, U.S. Embassy spokesman, said in an email that the full budget would be announced later this year.
“Beyond what is included in the budget blueprint, we do not have additional details on what programs will be reduced”, he said.