On May 12 and 13, the United States and Cambodia co-hosted the two-day U.S.ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, D.C., the second such summit to be held since 2016. Many issues were discussed during the meetings, ranging from the Myanmar crisis and the code of conduct in the South China Sea to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. also expressed its interest in elevating its relations with ASEAN to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Given that Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN, the ASEAN-U.S. summit also has implications for Cambodia-U.S. relations.
For the past 25 years, U.S. relations with Cambodia have been characterized by a war of rhetoric and suspicion on the part of the U.S., with the result that Cambodia has moved closer to China. The Biden administration appears convinced that Washington’s previous tough approach toward Cambodia is not working, and has taken steps to change in its approach. In late 2021, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited three Southeast Asia countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Alongside two important U.S. partners, the inclusion of the stop in Cambodia was surprising, given that Washington has long viewed the country as China’s key ally in the region.