Prime Minister Hun Sen described the relationship between Cambodia and the US as “better than ever”, while meeting with a delegation from the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC) on February 28.

Hun Sen’s personal assistant Eang Sophalleth quoted Hun Sen as saying that Cambodia-US relations were improving day by day in terms of growing bilateral trade volume.

“Cambodia and the US must continue to pay more attention to trade with each other,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying.

Michael Michalak who led the US-ABC delegation praised Cambodia for its successful chairmanship of ASEAN 2022, which helped enhance Cambodia-US bilateral relations, as well as US-ASEAN relations.

“The purpose of our visit is to show support for Cambodia’s efforts to recover economically from the Covid-19 crisis. The US-ABC will seek ways to improve access to finance for domestic and small- and medium-sized enterprises and severely affected industries, as well as promote the US private sector,” he said.

Michalak serves as regional managing director of the US-ABC, and represents several large US corporations, including ConocoPhillips, Ford, RMA Group, Pfizer, Visa, and Vriens & Partners.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, believed the current Cambodian-US relationship was not as strong as it had been, and believed the prime minister was being diplomatic.

“Relations between the two countries are still strained by US claims that Cambodia is declining in terms of democracy, political freedom, trade unions and an uncensored media. Cambodia is in the midst of a geopolitical dispute between the US and China, with the US States continuing to accuse Cambodia of being a Chinese underling. This includes allegations of a Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base, even though Cambodia has denied this,” he said.

He added that the diversification of diplomacy is important, however.

“The Kingdom should focus on politics, diplomacy, and economic ties with regional and global powerhouses, as this should improve social development and reduce hostilities with superpowers such as the US. Cambodia should pursue internal policies which are based on the principles of democracy, human rights and political freedom. This will drive relations with the superpowers,” he continued.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that when examining state-to-state relations, one had to look at many aspects, including politics, the economy, trade, society, culture – even the relationship between leaders – and many other aspects. When it came to Cambodia-US relations, he tended to agree with Hun Sen’s assessment.

“I agree with his statement. The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries has increased steadily, even during the Covid-19 period. Exports from Cambodia to the US are close to $10 billion, a large trade volume, and this is an indicator of the positive level of Cambodia-US relations,” he added.

However, he believed that more understanding is required between the two sides when it comes to certain concerns that the US has raised, including its skepticism regarding a Chinese military presence.