In January, the career Cambodian diplomats Sophea Eat and Keo Chhea ended a 14-year stretch of separation in different foreign postings when Eat took a post as the Southeast Asian country’s ambassador to the U.N., moving to the U.S. where her husband Keo has been serving as Cambodia’s top diplomat in Washington since 2022. Their postings coincide with intense U.S. interest in Cambodia and other ASEAN member countries as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to rally regional support for its strategy to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
That’s no cakewalk for the two envoys. The Biden administration is dismayed by Cambodia’s spiral into an increasingly repressive one-party authoritarian state that last month barred the country’s main opposition Candlelight Party from participating in the general election in July. The U.S. is also concerned that Cambodia is allowing Beijing to build a naval base on the Gulf of Thailand for exclusive use of China’s military. But President Joe Biden has also been appreciative of Cambodia’s support for U.S.-backed U.N. resolutions against Russia’s war against Ukraine over the past 15 months.