Following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s first visit to the US embassy, local analysts echo optimism that the “rare gesture” will significantly improve bilateral relations previously marked by differences over contentious issues.

Hun Sen made the surprise visit on December 23, when he and outgoing US ambassador W Patrick Murphy discuss, among other topics, ways to elevate the two countries’ relationship and enhance people-to-people ties.

“We look forward to a productive 2023 and continued efforts to strengthen friendship between the American and Cambodian people,” said the embassy in a social media post.

The US voiced its appreciation for Cambodia’s 2022 ASEAN chairmanship in a year of regional and global challenges, the “historic” US-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington DC, the hospitality extended to President Joe Biden during the dual ASEAN summits in Phnom Penh last month, and the newly-launched US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).

A CSP is a broad, detailed, dynamic, long-term, result-oriented agreement between signatories that affirms a high degree of maturity in relations as well as mutual trust and commitment. In 2010, Cambodia and China entered into such a partnership, and trade between the two countries has increased ever since, as has mutual support for international politics.

“We welcome Cambodia’s stance to uphold the UN Charter, defend territorial integrity, and co-sponsor UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the post added.

Murphy said on December 23 that 2022 had witnessed a successful Cambodia chairmanship of ASEAN, a historic US-ASEAN Special Summit, and an upgraded US partnership with ASEAN.

“We hosted Prime Minister Hun Sen and his delegation today at the US embassy to mark the end of the year and discuss efforts to improve bilateral relations,” he added.

This is the first time the prime minster has visited the embassy, as Murphy wrapped up his mandate, which began in August 2019. In June, US president Biden announced that William Forden would replace Murphy as ambassador.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the Kingdom and the US still have many opportunities and plenty of room to mend their ties and narrow the gap in trust between them.

“I hope they will be able to use the lessons of the previous 70 years of their bilateral relations to cultivate stable, comprehensive, deeper and stronger bilateral ties for the next 70 years, and beyond,” he added.