US Ambassador’s ‘V Sign’ During Ceremony Causes Confusion

V for victory? V for peace? Or, V for cultural faux pas?

U.S. Ambassador William Todd on Monday flashed an ambiguous “V sign” to reporters and photographers at the National Assembly’s inauguration ceremony, causing confusion over the message he was trying to convey at the opening of parliament, which was attended by lawmakers from the ruling CPP only.

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd flashes the 'V sign' on Monday at the opening of the National Assembly. (Siv Channa)
U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd flashes the ‘V sign’ on Monday at the opening of the National Assembly. (Siv Channa)

The “V sign,” as it is called, is created by raising the index and middle fingers to create a “V” shape. Historically, the sign is known to represent victory, but it can also mean peace.

At the end of Monday’s opening of parliament, Mr. Todd shook hands with King Norodom Sihamoni, then turned to the assembled journalists as he departed, and raised his hands showing the V sign.

Some were confused by his meaning and viewed the ambassador’s signing as meaning “victory” and a show of support for the convening of the National As­sembly, despite a boycott by 55 CNRP lawmakers-elect.

Ou Ritthy, a prominent political blogger, said in an email that the sign made by Mr. Todd—which he took to mean victory—made it seem as if the U.S. and other West­ern countries supported the CPP.

“It means a lot to do that [as] a diplomat! His presence and ‘V’ sign show that he support the first [National Assembly] session.”

Following the ceremony, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying Mr. Todd’s attendance was not an endorsement of the election outcome or of any party. The U.S. Embassy insisted that Mr. Todd’s action was the sign for peace, and later posted a picture on its Facebook page of Mr. Todd at an earlier date flashing the V sign with youth volunteers.

“Today at the National Assembly, Ambassador Todd displayed the universally recognized Peace sign as a message to the Cambodian people for peace and nonviolence. The U.S. Embassy has consistently called for non-violence and has stressed the importance of peaceful and constructive dialogue,” embassy spokesman John Simmons said.

One commentator wrote in a comment on the ambassador’s Facebook page: “Mr. Ambassador, I saw you raised your hands in this sign. Does it mean peace or victory of CPP?”

Others wrote they now understood Mr. Todd’s action. “Ah your sign is peace sign,” another wrote.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn and Zsombor Peter)

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