Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Hun Sen responds to Trump’s letter

Cambodian PM Hun Sen attends the 66th of the Independence day in Phnom Penh. 9 November 2019. Stringer

Prime Minister Hun Sen responded to a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump by saying he hoped to rebuild trust and confidence between the two countries.

Hun Sen’s reply, dated Nov. 26, said he was “reassured” by Trump saying the U.S. was not seeking regime change.

“As a very young democracy, you probably can appreciate our struggle to find full peace, a condition sine qua non before we can rebuild our nation, in full adherence to liberal multiparty democratic system,” Hun Sen said.

“I appreciate your understanding and patience in that respect and I look forward to have our foreign affairs team to work with yours to restore trust and confidence, and renew the bond of friendship between our two countries and peoples as you have so nobly stated in your letter.”

Trump’s Nov. 1 letter had called for Hun Sen to “put Cambodia back on the path to democratic governance.”

The relationship between Cambodia and the U.S. has been strained after Cambodia accused the U.S. of plotting against the government. Hun Sen claimed the U.S. was supporting the opposition CNRP to spark a “color revolution” in the country.

On Nov. 10, however, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court eased the restrictions placed against opposition leader Kem Sokha — who was charged with treason two years ago for allegedly colluding with the U.S. — effectively releasing him from house arrest.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg said discussions would continue in the hopes of “real progress.”

“We look forward to continuing our discussions with the government of Cambodia on U.S. support for the Cambodian people, as well as the necessary steps to reopen political and civic space for all Cambodians that would strengthen our bilateral relationship and make real progress possible,” Zeeberg said.

Hun Sen added in his letter that he would accept Trump’s invitation to attend the ASEAN-U.S. Special Summit Meeting to be held in the first quarter of 2020 in the U.S.

Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the exchange of letters between the U.S. and Cambodian leaders had both acknowledged the tensions of the past and pointed to optimism for the future.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen clarified that Cambodia’s intentions are to extend good relations with the U.S., and what he wants to see — he doesn’t want the U.S. to interfere with Cambodia’s internal issues or make any attempts that would cause the ruling regime of Cambodia to change,” Phea said.

The U.S. should avoid activities that could lead to confusion about its position, he said.

Phea added that Cambodia had not wanted to become estranged from the U.S., but that the U.S. had made Cambodia feel threatened.

“We believe that foreign affairs officers from both countries can work together in the future,” he said.