How Cambodia’s Relationship with the US Can Stop Being “One-Sided Love”

Instead of punishing Cambodia for its domestic record and closeness to China, the US has a chance to work with Phnom Penh’s new leaders as they seek to diversify their economy and foreign policy.

Cambodia’s close alignment with China and its strained relationship with the United States is a topic of debate among analysts and pundits. The former perception largely stems from China’s extensive investment projects in and aid to Cambodia in the past decades, which have also bolstered the political authority and legitimacy of Cambodia’s ruling party. Conversely, Cambodia’s fluctuating relationship with the US can be attributed to Washington’s persistent criticism of Cambodia’s democracy and human rights record, exacerbated by a long list of economic pressures.

The diminishing presence of the US in regional trade agendas and its reduced engagement in Cambodia provided China with an opportunity to assert its influence. Consequently, it might seem that Cambodia is aligning itself with China at the expense of its relationship with the US. However, such a simplistic interpretation misses the nuanced realities of Phnom Penh’s foreign policy. Cambodia cannot afford to alienate either global power. Behind the scenes of tension and geopolitical posturing lies a lesser-known narrative — a story of Cambodia’s quiet efforts to mend its frayed relationship with the US.

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