Yesterday, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in a televised speech that he was stepping down as Cambodia’s leader, after 38 years in the cockpit of power, and will make way for his eldest son, Hun Manet. The announcement follows an election in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a crushing victory – and unsurprisingly so, given the lack of any meaningful source of opposition. The handover of power has been set for August 22, when a new-look CPP cabinet, made up predominantly of the sons of party grandees, will be sworn into office.
There is much that can be said both about Hun Sen’s political legacy in Cambodia and the challenges that his son will face in carrying this forward. Among the most pressing questions being asked in foreign capitals is what impact the change in leadership will have on the future trajectory of Cambodia’s foreign policy, which in recent years has been characterized by a chilling of ties with the Western democracies and a conversely heavy shift toward China.
Despite the fact that Cambodia and Western governments may well view the advent of the 45-year-old Manet as a chance to initiate a diplomatic reset, there is unlikely to be a significant shift in the country’s foreign orientation.