The United States’ Asean mission yesterday rebutted criticism by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who told US President Donald Trump in a speech at the Asean Summit in Manila that the US Embassy in Phnom Penh was violating a purported new American policy of noninterference.
In a press release, the US mission to Asean said Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs Matt Pottinger, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia W Patrick Murphy had met Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn in Manila yesterday on the sidelines of the Asean Summit, and had “expressed strong concerns” about recent political developments in the Kingdom.
They highlighted “restrictions on the free press, civil society, and the political opposition” and voiced “deep concerns” about the detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha, arrested in September on widely criticised charges of “treason”.
In his speech at the summit on Monday, Hun Sen lauded Trump personally as a kindred spirit and for his purported foreign policy of noninterference, but asked him to warn his officials in Phnom Penh to stop violating this policy.
Apparently responding to the remarks, yesterday’s statement said Pottinger and Murphy had “noted that unfounded accusations and criticisms of the United States, including US diplomats in Cambodia, contradict the spirit of improved and productive bilateral relations between our two countries”.
Hun Sen’s remarks came after weeks of heated anti-US rhetoric from himself and other government officials, who have accused the US of colluding with the opposition to foment “revolution” in Cambodia, accusations denied by the embassy.
But ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan said yesterday that in order to maintain good relations, the embassy had to respect “Donald Trump’s foreign affairs”, which he maintained they did not.
“What [Hun Sen] said is true and obvious . . . They interfere in the internal work of Cambodia and take sides with the opposition party, and put pressure on the legitimate government,” he said.
“This is proved by their words, actions, statements and attitude,” he said, adding that there was no point in denying the diplomats’ bias and purported interference. “Fact is fact. The truth cannot be deleted.”
However, political analyst Ou Virak said the embassy and Trump’s foreign affairs shouldn’t be considered separate. “The state department is expected to defend its embassies and I am pretty sure the embassy is acting at [the] behest of . . . the US government,” he said in a message.
The US Embassy declined to comment yesterday.