US Ambasador Patrick Murphy has hiked to the top of Phnom Bakheng temple, ridden his bike around Silk Island, had clothing tailored and indulged in Phnom Penh’s famous street food offerings – but he has still not met a single government representative in his official capacity.
“After presenting myself as the new US ambassador before the King, I am waiting to meet with members of the Cambodian government to discuss efforts in strengthening the bond of friendship between the two countries,” Murphy said on Twitter.
This came soon after he formally introduced himself to King Norodom Sihamoni on Saturday – exactly a month after arriving in the Kingdom.
In his official video address after he was appointed ambassador, Murphy committed to strengthening US-Cambodia cooperation in development, trade, public health, law, culture and people-to-people exchanges, adding that he had visited the Kingdom on several previous occasions.
“I am committed to helping our two countries strengthen these and other ties, as well as support a healthy prosperous democratic and independent Cambodia,” he said.
Murphy’s appointment comes amid strained US-Cambodia relations.
There is currently a bipartisan US Senate and Congress move being considered to potentially suspend the Kingdom’s access to the Generalised System of Preferences – a trade preferences scheme offering reduced tariffs on certain Cambodian exports – through the Cambodia Democracy Act.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said he considered Murphy’s meeting with King Sihamoni to be a tacit recognition of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s landslide election victory last year, despite the pending bill.
“Undoubtedly, when the US decides to send its Ambassador to the Kingdom, it recognises the Cambodian government elected last year. So the outlawed rebels [Cambodia National Rescue Party] are now hopeless because the US Ambassador was not sent to meet [them],” Eysan said.
The director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia Kin Phea told The Post that Murphy’s remarks were “positive” because they indicated a “greater commitment and honest effort to improve relations”.
“If one postures as the boss and the other acts like a subordinate, there will be undue pressure and the relations will not be smooth,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay told The Post that it would be difficult for the US to observe the Kingdom’s foreign policy, given Cambodia’s “iron-clad friendship with China” and “the US government’s readiness to use coercive diplomacy”.
US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
However, last December Murphy issued a two-page statement to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations which read: “If I am to be recognised, I will work closely with the US Congress to make progress in the US interest in Cambodia, promote basic democracy, human rights and freedom.”