United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Cambodia for a two-day state visit this weekend as part of a wider tour of the region, US officials have confirmed.
In a statement issued on Friday, the US state department said Clinton would arrive in Cambodia on October 30, and would meet with government and civil society leaders in Phnom Penh. She is also expected to visit the Angkor Wat temple complex before jetting off to Malaysia.
The statement did not give more details of Clinton’s visit, and US embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said Clinton’s schedule in Cambodia was still being finalised.
The visit comes amid a renewed rift between the US and Cambodia over the repayment of millions of dollars of debt incurred under the Lon Nol regime in the early 1970s, a dispute that threatens to sour bilateral relations. Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen denounced the debt as “dirty”, linking it with the country’s civil war, and called for its cancellation.
In congressional testimony on September 30, Joe Yun, deputy assistant secretary for the US state department’s bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the US would not cancel the debt because to do so would set a “poor precedent” for other counties in similar circumstances.
Yun put Cambodia’s total debt to the US at about US$445 million, $405 million of which was in arrears and “would be due immediately upon the implementation of any agreement to pay the debt”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap could not be reached yesterday.
Clinton’s visit to Cambodia is part of a wider tour aimed at bolstering US ties to Pacific allies, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
President Barack Obama’s administration has described Southeast Asia as a key diplomatic priority, saying that the region was neglected by former president George W Bush due to his focus on Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Malaysia, Clinton will seek discussion on “our enhanced ties”, the state department statement said. The Obama administration has stepped up diplomacy with Malaysia, seeing it as a potential force for moderation within the Islamic world. Political relations were rocky when Malaysia was led by Mahathir Mohamad, who was known for his strident criticism of the West. The US sometimes riled Malaysia with past calls to expand democratic freedoms.
Prior to arriving in Cambodia, Clinton will also visit Hanoi for the annual East Asia Summit, less than four months from her last visit to the Vietnamese capital.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP