U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Phnom Penh on January 26 as part of a brief visit to the region, the U.S. State Department announced on Friday.
Mr. Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong to discuss the upcoming U.S.-Asean summit being held in Sunnylands, California, in February, before jetting off to China on January 27, according to the announcement.
The visit will also “seek ways to further strengthen bilateral cooperation and the growing bilateral economic relationship,” it said.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry confirmed Mr. Kerry’s planned meetings in Cambodia later this month.
“The main purpose of the visit is to further promote and strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said. “For the moment I have no idea what topics will be discussed…. We have to wait.”
In November, a State Department official told the U.S. Senate that political events in Cambodia, including the beating of opposition lawmakers and legal moves against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, were cause for “grave concern.”
“These actions recall a more authoritarian period in Cambodia’s recent past and raise serious doubts about the government’s commitment to the reforms undertaken in 2014,” said Scott Busby, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor.
In 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama privately urged Mr. Hun Sen to enact electoral reform and improve the rights situation. In 2010, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for the U.N. human rights office, which the government had just then threatened to close.
Cambodia, for its part, has often used such meetings to urge forgiveness of more than $400 million of Lon Nol-era debt.
The upcoming U.S.-Asean Summit was announced at the 27th Asean Summit, held in Malaysia in November, when Mr. Obama invited the leaders of the 10 Asean member nations to attend; the visit will mark Mr. Hun Sen’s first official visit to the U.S.