President Donald Trump has written a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to improve Cambodia’s democratic credentials and to correct decisions that have affected the country’s stability and economic development.
PM Hun Sen confirmed on his Facebook page that he had received two letters from Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy during a meeting on Thursday. In the Facebook post, he acknowledged that President Trump said he would respect Cambodia's sovereignty and not push for regime change.
However, the same letter, dated November 1, 2019, and accessed by VOA Khmer, shows that Trump also asks Hun Sen to return to the democratic path and put into effect corrective measures to ensure better relations.
“It is important for the future of our bilateral relationship that you put Cambodia back on the path of democratic governance,” Trump said.
Trump also writes that the United States was not looking for a change of government.
“I wish to take this opportunity to underscore to you that the United States respects the sovereign will of the Cambodian people and we do not seek regime change,” the letter reads.
Cambodia has frequently accused the U.S. of assisting the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in a “color revolution” to overthrow the Hun Sen government.
The Cambodian government in 2017 embarked on its harshest crackdown against the CNRP, resulting in the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, whose house-arrest restrictions have been lifted earlier this month, and dissolution of the party. The crackdown also targeted civil society groups and independent media organizations.
“As a first step, I hope you will re-evaluate certain decisions taken by your government that the United States firmly believes puts a great risk the Kingdom Cambodia’s long-term sovereignty, stability, and economic development,” the letter reads.
The two countries have seen a significant decline in their relationship in the last few years, a point raised by Trump in the letter. This decline was also linked to Cambodia’s increasing proximity with the China, which has extended its influence in the Southeast Asian country significantly.
VOA could not reach Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan for comment. Ruling party Senator Sok Eysan said the letter meant the two countries can work together to improve their relationship, but said that Cambodia was already on a democratic path.
“It's just a reminder to go deeper on the path we are on. But, now his [President Trump] reminder is in line with the path we are walking on,” Sok Eysan said.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg declined to comment on Trump's letter to Hun Sen.
Opposition leader Mu Sochua said the letter was intended to remind Cambodia that it had swayed from the democratic path and that it was time to correct the course.
“And most importantly, to have a governance [in Cambodia] that is based on democratic principles, that respects human rights and the freedoms for ordinary people,” she said.