US top diplomat for Asia talks co-op with Cambodia

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink touched down in Cambodia on July 12 for his first official visit to the nation.

Ry Sochan

Ry Sochan

The Phnom Penh Post


Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary at the US state department, holding a press conference on July 13. Heng Chivoan

July 14, 2022

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s top diplomat Prak Sokhonn and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink met on July 12 and discussed bilateral and regional cooperation efforts, with each side expressing their respective concerns regarding visa denial and human rights.

Kritenbrink touched down in Cambodia on July 12 for his first official visit to the Kingdom and met with Sokhonn later that day before heading over to his next destination, Japan, on July 13.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a July 12 press statement that during the meeting, Sokhonn and Kritenbrink discussed the enhancement of bilateral cooperation between the US and Cambodia in various fields.

The press release said that Sokhonn expressed his satisfaction with the steady growth in bilateral trade with the US and he also reiterated his call for the renewal of Cambodia’s preferred trade status under the US’ General System of Preferences (GSP) as a means to further grow their economic relationship.

The minister also said he appreciated US humanitarian assistance to Cambodia, like the over three million doses of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines provided to the Kingdom through the COVAX Facility as well as the development assistance granted to the country on education, health, agriculture, climate change and demining, among others, through agencies such as USAID.

However, Sokhonn expressed concern over an ongoing issue that began back in 2017: The systematic denial of B1 and B2 visas to the US for foreign ministry officials as a means to pressure Cambodia into accepting the return of its citizens who have been deported from the US due to criminal activity even though Cambodia has always accepted deportees and is in fact one of just a few countries in the world that will do so under all circumstances.

“[Sokhonn] expressed his disappointment with Cambodia being unfairly considered an ‘un-cooperative’ country in regards to the repatriation cooperation issue, leading to the imposing of visa restrictions on senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,” the press statement said.

Sokhonn and Kritenbrink also touched on the elevation of ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) expected to be made official later this year at the ASEAN summit in Cambodia. They also discussed the situation in Myanmar.

Before his departure, Kritenbrink held a press conference on the morning of July 13 during which he discussed “America’s commitment” to the Indo-Pacific region and to Cambodia.

“The US is a long-time friend of Cambodia. The US remains committed to our relationship with Cambodia and to improving the lives of all Cambodians,” he said.

He said the US and allies have played a key role in Cambodia’s remarkable economic growth and standard-of-living improvements across many sectors such as public health, education, agriculture, food security, the environment and countering crime, among others.

“I am happy to let you know that even more donated US vaccines will arrive later this year. The US has also provided more than $16 million dollars in supplemental Covid-19 assistance to Cambodia and this support has reached more than 10 million Cambodians. It has improved laboratory capacity, strengthened healthcare workers’ skills and helped to address the economic impact of the pandemic,” he said.

On regional cooperation, Kritenbrink said that the US, Cambodia and other Mekong partners are strengthening good governance, economic independence and sustainable development by promoting transparent rules-based policies. He said that US foreign aid assistance to the Mekong sub-region has totalled more than $4.3 billion over the last 12 years.

Kritenbrink also urged the “Burmese” – US official policy is to refer to Myanmar by its old name – military regime to work with ASEAN to swiftly implement the five-point consensus, bring about a cessation of violence and release all of those detained including foreign political prisoners, among others.

Similar to visits by other US officials in the recent past, Kritenbrink did not forget to raise US concerns regarding what he said were “continued restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms”.

Kritenbrink also brought up US concerns about an alleged “chinese military presence” at Ream Naval Base, which he said would undermine regional security.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that supposed concerns about democracy and human rights have been brought up by the US in the past as a pretext to use coercive measures against Cambodia.

He noted that today the core values of democracy and human rights are globally being questioned because many ostensibly democratic countries have apparently undemocratic characteristics.

Phea said that with Ream Naval base, no matter how many times Cambodia makes a clarification on this topic, the US continues to make accusations about it without providing any evidence.

“It is the preferred scenario or plan of the US to raise these suspicions as part of an effort to sour relations between Cambodia and China. The US really doesn’t want Cambodia to have a military relationship with China. Frankly, the US doesn’t want China to have any influence in Southeast Asia at all, let alone military bases,” he said.

He said that China’s growing influence in the region threatens US hegemony and undermines its Indo-Pacific strategy and the persistent rumours about Chinese military presence at Ream Naval Base are part of the US pushback against China.

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