PHNOM PENH —
Despite criticism from Washington over Cambodia’s crackdown on the opposition and accusations that the U.S. helped plot Prime Minister Hun Sen’s downfall, the U.S. Ambassador, William Heidt, has said that America’s support for Cambodia’s economy will not be negatively impacted.
In an interview with VOA Khmer on Wednesday, Heidt said the embassy’s mission to strengthen the bilateral relationship with Cambodia remained of paramount importance.
“For me the key next step is helping to connect Cambodia’s technology sector with the big American technology companies, which are investing throughout Southeast Asia, mostly in Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City,” he said.
“I think, Cambodia is developing fast in technology, but it has not yet broken out of Cambodia, gotten a hook-in with the regional technology network. And, that's what I am going to do next and I hope to do that in the first half of next year.”
He said the U.S. was focused on promoting Cambodian economic growth to connect U.S. investors with Cambodian technology companies.
The U.S. Embassy and Cambodian government have been at odds of late over accusations that Washington conspired with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen in a so-called color revolution.
Cambodia has since banned the opposition and arrested its leader on treason charges.
The U.S. Embassy has denied the allegations.
Heidt said the allegations were categorically false. “I don’t spend a ton of time on this issue because there’s nothing really no more for us to say. And, I mean, nobody, nobody believes this in America. Nobody in our government, nobody in our society,” he said.
“We on the American side feel very strongly that we have been a great partner for Cambodia. We really helped Cambodia develop in many ways and we want to keep doing that,” he added.
He said he felt a deep regret at the government’s decision to move to dissolve the CNRP, which has led the White House to reconsider its foreign relations with Cambodia.
He said the Trump administration was reassessing Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential trade agreements with Cambodia.
“Since I came here, let’s be honest, the Khmer government has taken a lot of steps against the government of the United States. They've cut all our military exercises, they thrown our Seabee detachment out of the country, they made all of those accusations against us, having to do with the political situation."
“I feel like there has really never been an honest desire by the Khmer government to have a good relationship with the United States.”
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said Phnom Penh did not desire to sour the relationship with the United States, but added that there were “some little activities” that needed to end in order for relations to improve, including suggesting Cambodia was “pro-China.”
Hun Sen is in China, Cambodia’s biggest donor and lender, this week for the Communist Party conference in Beijing, where he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.