A U.S. economic affairs diplomat on Friday voiced his praise for the government’s commitment to rooting out corruption after meeting with Cambodian officials during a visit this week.
Kurt Tong, principal deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, said he believed Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol was “sincere” in his pledge to combat government graft.
“The impression I’m going away with is of a rather determined leadership here who is focused on Cambodia’s strengths and weaknesses and in the economic policy area has some good ideas in how to push forward,” Mr. Tong told journalists during a meeting at the U.S. Embassy on Friday.
“I would just like to underscore how welcome that apparent sincerity is and I found it good in itself that people were willing to talk openly about corruption as an issue and I would encourage the Cambodian government to focus on that question,” he added.
Cambodia remains beset by rampant corruption in the public sector, and U.S. ambassadors to the country have long said graft is a major deterrent for American investors.
In Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranked 156 out of 177 nations surveyed.
Cambodia was the last stop for Mr. Tong in a brief trip to Asia that included stops in Japan and Laos.
Quizzed on whether the U.S. should be pressuring the government to take more concrete measures to stamp out corruption before promoting the country as an investment destination, Mr. Tong said economic engagement could bring about positive change.
“I think there’s a feedback loop between economic integration with the international community and positive progress on issues such as corruption or even, more broadly, political reform,” he said.
“I don’t see it as a binary equation of black and white…but it’s important to not be blind to the problems,” he added.