Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 23 met with US ambassador Patrick Murphy at his embassy, in a visit hailed by diplomacy experts as a “rare gesture” that could elevate relations between Cambodia and the global power.

“With a view to the new year, Ambassador Murphy and the Prime Minister discussed ways to improve the bilateral relationship. We look forward to a productive 2023 and continued efforts to strengthen friendship between the American and Cambodian people,” the US embassy in Phnom Penh said in a social media post.

The US voiced 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 generally a broad, detailed, dynamic, long-term, highly 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.

Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou said: “If we look at the general atmosphere of Cambodia-US relations this year, we see [how] different [it is] from many years ago, and the recent developments of these bilateral relationships are the best.”

He contended that Cambodian-US were elevated by the Kingdom’s early condemnation of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, accusing Moscow of being in breach of the UN Charter, international law and humanitarian principles.

US ambassador Patrick Murphy welcomes Prime Minister Hun Sen. US EMBASSY IN PHNOM PENH

For context, Cambodian joined 140 countries and seven ASEAN member states on March 2 to vote in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution censuring Russia on its military offensive in the embattled nation that began six days earlier.

“[This] is in line with what the United States and the West wanted, as well as the nations of the world.

“Furthermore, the Cambodian people also want it, because we went through civil wars. So when the head of the Cambodian government, Hun Sen, condemned the Russian Federation … [this elevated] relations between Cambodia and the US,” he continued.

He listed three other key recent events that have boosted bilateral relations between the two countries: Hun Sen leading the ASEAN delegation to the US-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington; the premier’s chairmanship of the dual ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh; and the December 23 rare visit to the US embassy.

“This is a rare picture – a rare diplomatic gesture – that I have observed. This is also what shows that the modus operandi and relations between the two countries are better than ever,” he emphasised.

Peou predicted that US-Cambodia relations would “be more positive” even after the ambassador's appointment comes to an end.

Murphy was appointed as US ambassador to Cambodia on August 8, 2019.

“The year 2023 is expected to bear fruit, and the political environment in Cambodia will be better, marked by free and fair elections,” he said, voicing optimism that the US would reinstate its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) and provide preferential tariff treatment to Cambodia.