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Jury still out on attitude of newly appointed US envoy

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
US Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy (left) discusses the possibility of responses to the crackdown on the opposition last year in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Jury still out on attitude of newly appointed US envoy

Mixed signals are emerging after the US appointed a new ambassador to Cambodia just as the election mood is tapering down in the Kingdom.

Political analysts say the appointment of the senior US diplomat, known for his considerable experience in Asia, is expected to lead to a political compromise following the July 29 elections which saw the ruling party sweeping the 125 National Assembly seats.

The Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch said the US, which neither has much investment in Cambodia nor huge benefits to gain from the Kingdom, would not take the eye-for-an-eye approach.

He said the dispatch of Patrick Murphy, who has a profound knowledge of Asian affairs and politics, for the new mandate, would pave the way for a solution to political issues here.

“I think the new ambassador will facilitate the relief of political [tensions]. I believe there will be no [additional sanctions on Cambodia] because the government is born of the elections.

“If it adds [sanctions] it means the US does not understand democracy,” Touch told The Post on Monday.

Referring to the US’ reported intention to impose restrictions on Cambodia, Touch said: “I think what the US wants is [a solution] to the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. [But] it’s the Kingdom’s law.”

Political analyst and international affairs adviser at Naresuan University in Thailand, Paul Chambers, told The Post on Monday that the US had tried to show its dissatisfaction with the alleged deterioration of democracy and increasing violations of human rights in Cambodia.

He said the US decided to impose more sanctions on Cambodia than on any other Southeast Asian countries for geopolitical reasons, as Prime Minister-designate Hun Sen continues to forge a closer than ever relationship with China. Hence, it is trying to exert pressure.

“The appointment of a new US ambassador to Cambodia signals that the US recognises the sitting government in Cambodia despite Washington’s concerns about democracy in Cambodia.

“I predict his tone will be harsher in Cambodia, but he will also seek greater trade ties between the two countries,” Chambers said.

He said Murphy had considerable experience working at the US embassy in Myanmar and Thailand, where he dealt with governments similar to a dictatorship or even an absolute dictatorship.

Victory Intelligent Standard Association president Ros Sarom said the appointment of the new ambassador does not mean the US fully supports Hun Sen’s newly elected government.

The US, he said, has new policies towards Cambodia, which is expected to lead to political changes in the country.

“I believe [a compromise] is possible because political solutions must be reached. It can’t go on until the new mandate ends. [The new ambassador] clearly knows what Cambodia is facing.

“Cambodia is the core centre of the US’s Indo-Pacific strategies. So it cannot forsake the Kingdom, especially if it is in China’s grip. It’s impossible [for the US to let this happen]. The US would not let Cambodia descend into a dictatorship,” he said.

However, Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan expressed confidence that the US would still support the newly elected government and not impose sanctions on the Kingdom.

Eysan said if bilateral relations were not good, the US would have withdrawn its diplomatic missions here.

“I think diplomacy is diplomacy. It cannot infringe on Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty."

“So I think the diplomat understands what diplomacy is and would not come to control Cambodia,” Eysan said.

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