Beyond the Trump-Hun Sen Letters, Where Will a US-Cambodia Thaw End Up?

Amid the spotlight on the correspondence by the two leaders looms the bigger question of what a recalibrated relationship may look like and how it will evolve in the future.

Over the past week, revelations of a recent letter exchange between U.S. President Donald Trump and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has reignited interest in the evolving state of U.S.-Cambodia relations. While the focus thus far has been on the specifics of the letter exchange itself, the bigger question continues to be what the outlines for a previously expected thawing of a U.S.-Cambodia relationship may look like in the coming months.

As I have noted before in these pages, U.S.-Cambodia relations have been through their share of ups and downs over the past few decades since diplomatic relations were last reestablished in 1993 following previous years of Khmer Rouge rule, occupation, and civil war. U.S.-Cambodia relations under Hun Sen, who has presided over this entire post-1993 period thus far, have repeatedly seen periods of suspension or downgrading in line with various factors including the state of democracy and human rights in the country, Cambodia’s balance of its foreign alignments, and different administrations in the United States.

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