Cambodia - US Relations
US soft power in the region had helped facilitate international aid following the country's destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. However, as US influence has weakened, China has stepped in to provide billions of dollars in loans and new infrastructure projects. In August 2017, Hun Sen expelled the US-funded National Democratic Institute amid accusations it was colluding with the opposition CNRP. Radio Free Asia closed its Phnom Penh office.
During the Cold War, US policy toward Cambodia was about everything but Cambodia : Vietnam war strategy, foreign relations, even humanitarian policies, were obsessed with Cambodia only to the extent that Cambodia represented a stretch of land deemed pivotal to whatever cold war policy happened to be popular at the moment. From 1993 to 2008, the United States provided Cambodia with over $500 million of assistance to help reduce poverty and foster economic growth. This assistance has included programs to strengthen democracy, improve education and health care, and address problems posed by land mines.
Between 1955 and 1963, the United States provided $409.6 million in economic grant aid and $83.7 million in military assistance. This aid was used primarily to repair damage caused by Cambodia's war of independence from France, to support internal security forces, and for the construction of an all-weather road to the seaport of Sihanoukville, which gave Cambodia its first direct access to the sea and access to the southwestern hinterlands. Relations deteriorated in the early 1960s. Diplomatic relations were broken by Cambodia in May 1965, but were reestablished on July 2, 1969. US relations continued after the establishment of the Khmer Republic until the US mission was evacuated on April 12, 1975.
During the 1970-75 war, the United States provided $1.18 billion in military assistance and $503 million in economic assistance. The United States condemned the brutal character of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. The United States opposed the subsequent military occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam.
Towards the end of the Cold War Congressional action helped bring about a change in US policy toward Cambodia. Some 162 House Members and 26 Senators wrote Secretary of State Baker a letter on 29 November 1989, questioning administration policy on Cambodia. On 24 July 1990, 66 Senators wrote President Bush taking issue with past US support for representatives of three resistance groups, including the Khmer Rouge, to be the legitimate representative of Cambodia in the United Nations. Congressional critics also contended that the administration was placing too much emphasis on the need for compromise by the Vietnamese and the State of Cambodia, and not enough on restricting the Khmer Rouge. As a result of congressional pressure, administration officials stressed more their opposition to the Khmer Rouge, and the aid program was changed from a covert to an overt one which could be more openly debated.
Secretary of State James Baker announced July 18, 1990 a reversal of United States policies regarding Cambodia , Vietnam, and the Khmer Rouge. The United States gave up its support for the non-Communist coalition's claim to the United Nations seat, a move which severed the Khmer Rouge from a critical diplomatic tool. The United States supported ASEAN's efforts in the 1980s to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the problem. This was accomplished on October 23, 1991, when the Paris Conference reconvened to sign a comprehensive settlement.
The US Mission in Phnom Penh opened on November 11, 1991, headed by career diplomat Charles H. Twining, Jr., who was designated US Special Representative to the SNC. On January 3, 1992, the US lifted its embargo against Cambodia, thus normalizing economic relations with the country. The United States also ended blanket opposition to lending to Cambodia by international financial institutions. When the freely elected Royal Government of Cambodia was formed on September 24, 1993, the United States and the Kingdom of Cambodia immediately established full diplomatic relations. The US Mission was upgraded to a US Embassy, and in May 1994 Mr. Twining became the US Ambassador.
Since re-establishing diplomatic relations in 1992 following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the US and Cambodia have incrementally but steadily strengthened their ties, albeit with occasional setbacks as a result of Cambodian human rights transgressions. The momentum of this deepening relationship increased as Cambodia began taking a more responsible position in international affairs.
After the factional fighting in 1997 and Hun Sen's legal machinations to depose First Prime Minister Ranariddh, the United States suspended bilateral assistance to the Cambodian Government. At the same time, many US citizens and other expatriates were evacuated from Cambodia and, in the subsequent weeks and months, more than 40,000 Cambodian refugees fled to Thailand. The 1997 events also left a long list of uninvestigated human rights abuses, including dozens of extra-judicial killings. Hun Sen’s imperious way of dealing with political opposition following the 1997 coup and his high-handedmanner with a struggling legislature intent on preserving its independence again heightened US Congressional concerns.
Following the factional fighting in July 1997, US legislation prohibited bilateral assistance to the central government. Other legislation required the United Statesto oppose International Financial Institution lending to the Cambodian government for all but basic human needs. A section on foreign operations in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2003 included “notwithstanding” language allowing bilateral assistance for basic education, cultural preservation, and combating human trafficking. US military assistance to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces ceased in 1997.
Successive US Administrations approached bilateral relations with Cambodia narrowly, drawn to prevent direct US assistance to Hun Sen’s government until such time as improvements in policies and practices were certified to Congress by the President. From 1997 until the lifting of legislative restrictions on bilateral assistance in 2007, US assistance to the Cambodian people was provided mainly through non-governmental organizations, which flourish in Cambodia.
In 2003–2004, the Washington inter-agency policy community began to explore possibilities for resuming programs with RCAF. While fully normal relations between the United States and Cambodia long eluded both countries since diplomatic relations began more than a half century ago, the bilateral relationship has improved markedly. Cooperation is particularly close on security and health issues, such as counter-terrorism and intel-sharing, POW/MIA matters, HIV/AIDS, and avian influenza.
As remaining sanctions have been allowed to expire, cooperation has grown rapidly. As a result, for example, while Cambodia received no FMF in 2004, it received US$992,000 at the end of FY05 and US$990,000 at the end of FY06, and in the FY07 Continuing Resolution is earmarked for an additional US$1 million. Cambodia became eligible for IMET for the first time in FY06 (with a modest sum) and the focus has been on increasing English language instruction capability and establishing some US style defense cooperation management capability.
In years since 2008, bilateral relations between the US and Cambodia have deepened and broadened. With the lifting of a congressional ban to provide direct assistance to the Cambodian Government, more direct technical assistance has become feasible. US assistance to Cambodia administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in 2010 totaled approximately $70 million for programs in health, education, governance, and economic growth.
The US supports efforts in Cambodia to combat terrorism, reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, build democratic institutions, promote human rights, foster economic development, eliminate corruption and trafficking in persons, achieve the fullest possible accounting for Americans missing from the Indochina conflict, and to bring to justice those most responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.
In early 2017 Cambodia canceled a joint military exercise with the United States, and Prime Minister Hun Sen lobbied for the U.S. to forgive Cambodia’s $500 million in debts dating back to the 1970s. In another sign of a diplomatic shift toward Beijing, Cambodia scrapped a long-standing U.S. military development aid program. “The Royal Government of Cambodia notified the Embassy last week of its decision to postpone indefinitely the mission of the U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion - better known as the Seabees - which has been carrying out community service projects in underserved areas of Cambodia since 2008. The Cambodian government did not offer a reason for this decision,” Jay Raman, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, stated A on 06 APril 2017. The decision ended a program that has run for nine years.
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