Cambodia-US relations: Moving to strategic cooperation

The bilateral relations between Cambodia and US are based on increasing mutual trust, understanding and convergent interests.  Cambodia is pushing forward diversified foreign policy which means strengthening cooperation with all countries especially superpowers.  For the US, strengthening comprehensive cooperation and relations with Cambodia falls into the overarching foreign policy of the US towards to the Asia Pacific region. The momentum of the bilateral relations goes along with US-ASEAN relations framework.

Strategically and diplomatically, in order to win the heart of ASEAN, the engagement of the US in this region focusing on two specific issues: South China Sea and the Mekong River. These two issues are the most sensitive issues in the region and it involves with China. US understands that ASEAN needs US and US needs ASEAN. Such convergent interests provide a space for good cooperation.

For Cambodia, the US is getting more interest in security cooperation than in other fields. The US has changed its position vis-à-vis Cambodia. In the past US talked more about democracy and human rights and now the US is talking more about economic development, strategic cooperation and military cooperation.

The policy of development assistance to Cambodia, operated by USAID, it focuses more on economic development and poverty reduction. Private sector support and other soft infrastructure such as education and health are the priority of development assistance and cooperation.  This year, 2011, USAID has committed 35 million US$ to support education and health care in Cambodia.

Regarding military to military relations, US supports Cambodia in capacity building and professionalism. In the recent visit of the Deputy Assistant of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Mr. Robert Scher, in late October 2011, the US reaffirmed to make progress of bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries. The US focus on the opportunities for future cooperation in the areas of peacekeeping, demining, anti-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and defense reform. He said  “I’d like to stress that the department is committed to continuing to assist in building up the professional capacity of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) while encouraging the RCAF to continue on a path of improved transparency, rule of law, and respect for human rights”.

The US has supported Cambodia in terms of joint military exercises and trainings with regards to peacekeeping operations and humanitarian disaster relief. For the ASEAN chairmanship of Cambodia next year, the US also supports providing security training to relevant agencies in Cambodia as well. From November to December, US and Cambodian forces will have training and scenarios setting to prevent terrorism and other crimes that can disturb the ASEAN meetings next year.

In summary, the US is investing more in Cambodia in software support, which means institutional support and capacity building.  The US views such investment is more effective and less costly and it can contribute to long term development of Cambodia and assist Cambodia to play more active role in the region and the world at large.

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