America puts the ball in Cambodia’s court

The change of administration in the US presents Cambodia with a rare opportunity to rebuild trust.

If Cambodia wants to receive US$85 million in new funding from the United States next year, it will need to “assert its sovereignty against interference by the People’s Republic of China,” an escalation of US opposition to Cambodia’s close friendship with Beijing, but a move that may simplify bilateral ties.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 intones that the US Secretary of State – likely to be Antony Blinken once the incoming Joe Biden administration takes office in mid-January – must judge whether Cambodia has maintained neutrality over the Ream Naval Base and the Chinese-backed Dara Sakor development project in Koh Kong province before the funds are released.

US officials have alleged since 2017 that Phnom Penh is prepared to allow Chinese troops to be stationed at either of these locations, claims the Cambodian government vehemently rejects and which would be in violation of the country’s neutralist constitution.

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