Opinion: Trump’s Cambodia Policy: Don’t Meddle in Political Affairs

Narak Kay is a Cambodian-American who works for the U.S. government in Washington, D.C.

Along with his positions on trade and border protections, Donald Trump’s foreign policy views were crucial to his historic election as U.S. president.

After the election, Cambodia’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, stated that he did not think the U.S. would change its policy toward Cambodia, while CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said she hopes that Mr. Trump “will have a strong position on free and fair elections and the democratic process.”

If Mr. Trump holds true to his campaign rhetoric, in which he espoused an “America First” foreign policy rooted in the national interest, do not expect the U.S. to meddle in Cambodia’s political affairs. He argued that the U.S. has been fighting wars in the Middle East for 15 years, spending $6 trillion.

The U.S. could have used that money to rebuild the country—twice. Mr. Trump lamented that in comparison with other countries, the U.S.’s roads, bridges, tunnels and airports are obsolete.

Before the rise of Mr. Trump, Washington politicians, foreign allies and elites wanted the U.S. to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin by sending troops to the eastern Baltic and weapons to Kiev to fight Russia. Washington politicians, particularly Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wanted to establish a no-fly zone in Syria and shoot down Russian and Syrian planes that violated it. Others wanted the U.S. to confront Beijing over its claims to reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.

On Cambodia, CNRP lawmakers and party members lobbied the U.S. to reprimand Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government. Ed Royce, a U.S. representative and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent letters to Mr. Hun Sen urging the government to stop harassing opposition leaders and to respect the democratic process. Lest we forget, Mr. Rainsy wrote an October 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times urging President Barack Obama not to attend the 2012 Asean meeting in Phnom Penh, fearing that the visit would enhance Mr. Hun Sen’s legitimacy.

Mr. Obama still attended the summit, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cambodia. The White House indicated that the visit was not an endorsement of Mr. Hun Sen.

The U.S. has no vital interest in any of these places. Why should those of Cambodian descent living in the U.S. worry about the political affairs in Cambodia? Cambodians who resettled in Western countries should not meddle in Cambodian political affairs. They need to leave the politics to those living in Cambodia.

Why should the U.S. worry about the Hun Sen government? Mr. Trump has the opportunity to redirect U.S. foreign policy for a generation. To the dismay of many of the Washington politicians and security officials, he wants to repair the relations between Washington and Moscow. He wants to work with Russia to destroy the Islamic State militant group and al-Qaida, their common enemies. Mr. Trump believes he can work with Chinese President Xi Jinping and maintain strong bilateral relations. Seemingly, Mr. Trump is seeking to establish close ties with those previous administrations considered as geopolitical foes and nations with questionable human rights records.

In his victory speech, Mr. Trump said: “I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone.” Under a Trump administration, the U.S. will not intervene in Cambodian politics, unless it interferes with U.S. interests. Mr. Trump will not lecture Mr. Hun Sen on human rights or how to run his country. On the 2018 parliamentary elections, Mr. Trump will not endorse one candidate over the other.

If Mr. Trump meets Mr. Hun Sen, perhaps over a round of golf in Siem Reap, what would he say to him? President Trump would assure the prime minister that the U.S. age of interventionism was over. How nations govern themselves is their own business. Although the U.S. would prefer democracies and republics to autocrats and dictators, the U.S. will base its attitude toward other nations upon their attitude toward the U.S.

Cambodia’s internal affairs are not of vital interest to the U.S. What the U.S. will continue to do is forge and maintain close bilateral relations with Cambodia. Mr. Trump’s foreign policy of non-intervention is what will help make America great again.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Cambodia Daily.

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