Cambodia and the U.S. on Wednesday marked 70 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950, with Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy looking ahead to areas of future cooperation.
Murphy said the U.S. would cooperate with Cambodia on easier issues first — health, education and law enforcement — before trying to tackle the contentious issues of democracy and human rights.
“First, we have a strong foundation and we want to focus on areas where we can cooperate,” he said. “When we have the basics [we can] address the areas where we have some difficulties and some differences.”
The priorities were also reflected in a series of monthly celebrations the embassy has planned for the year, starting with agriculture in January, and ending with democracy and human rights in December.
In between, the embassy plans to variously celebrate youth, women, health, trade, regional cooperation and other topics.
Sokhonn, the foreign affairs minister, praised the U.S. for lowering tariffs on Cambodian products, notably for travel goods in 2016.
Subsequently, the U.S. overtook the E.U. as Cambodia’s biggest export market in June last year, according to the World Bank.
“Preferential market access guided by the U.S has had a very positive impact in boosting the country’s economy,” Sokhonn said.
He also pointed to a recent exchange of letters between U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Hun Sen as proof of the friendship between the two countries.
In his letter, Trump asked Hun Sen to “put Cambodia back on the path of democratic governance,” a reference to 2018’s national election that the U.S. has called neither free nor fair due to the dissolution of the main opposition party ahead of the vote.
In response, Hun Sen said Cambodia was a young democracy, and “you can probably appreciate our struggle to find full peace.”