The nominated US ambassador to Cambodia is still awaiting his selection to be fully approved by the US Senate before his expected arrival in Cambodia early next month.
W Patrick Murphy, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, was nominated last August by US President Donald Trump to replace the outgoing former ambassador William Heidt.
However, Trump’s request was returned to the Senate on January 3 during the US government shutdown.
US Embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes said on Monday that as a normal part of the nomination process, President Trump re-nominated Murphy as Ambassador to Cambodia on January 16 when the new Congress convened.
Murphy, a native of Vermont state and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, was “to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Cambodia”, the US Senate’s Executive Calendar had said.
Murphy has served previously as deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires in Thailand (2013-16) and Lesotho (2006-08).
He has also served as Special Representative for Burma (Myanmar), director and deputy director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia, political advisor for the Haiti Working Group and desk officer for Burma and Laos, among other positions, said the US Department of State.
Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan said as per international principle, an ambassador’s role was to strengthen relations and cooperation with the host country in a professional manner.
“We don’t expect to see an ambassador here with a political agenda to cause trouble. What we don’t want is any interference into the internal affairs of Cambodia, which is an independent country,” he said.
Meach Sovannara, a member of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who is a US citizen, said a 50 per cent plus one vote is needed by the Senate to approve Murphy’s nomination.
“So Murphy will likely be the next US ambassador to Cambodia as Republican senators are the majority in the Senate,” he said.
‘Strong diplomat is needed’
The announcement of newly nominated ambassadors usually took place on US Independence Day on July 4, he added.
Ket Sophann, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said Cambodia should be informed in advance before a state began its approval process for ambassadors.
However, the ministry had yet to receive information regarding the nomination of a new US ambassador, he said.
So Chantha, a political science professor, said Murphy expressed before the Senate a commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.
Therefore, a strong position regarding democracy and human rights in Cambodia would be his priority, he said.
In February, the US and Chinese embassies in Cambodia exchanged words over the 1970 coup d’etat led by Lon Nol which toppled the government of the then prime minister Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
The US embassy said it was not involved in the coup, while the Chinese mission said the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) security service had been.
“The US might think the choice of US ambassador for Cambodia is suitable since relations between the two countries have become strained, while Cambodia is also a hotspot for geopolitical competition between the US and China. A strong and experienced diplomat is needed,” Chantha said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and the US, there had been few instances of a US ambassador having a difficult experience in Cambodia.
The exceptions, he said, came during the few years leading to the severance of ties in 1965 and during the extension of the Vietnam War into Cambodia in 1970, which led to the bloody overthrow of the pro-American Lon Nol regime in 1975 by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge.
Mong Hay said the government of a truly sovereign and independent Cambodia could and should tell the ambassadors of the two superpowers to end their war of words, something that could only further polarise Cambodian society.
He said the personality and character of ambassadors counted for a lot in diplomacy, while Cambodia’s leaders had more at stake than ambassadors and their countries.
“So one could venture to say that those leaders, with China’s firm and unwavering support and backing under their belt, would fight off any assault until knocked to the ground,” Mong Hay said.