US Defense Secretary Austin meets Cambodia’s top officials in pursuit of stronger ties with China’s ally

June 5, 2024 by No Comments

U.S. Defense Secretary Austin traveled to Cambodia on Tuesday for a series of meetings aimed at strengthening diplomatic relations between the two nations.

During his one-day trip to Phnom Penh, Austin convened with Cambodian Minister of National Defense Hun Sen, President of the Cambodian Senate Tea Banh, and Prime Minister Hun Manet. Austin and his counterparts pledged to enhance the ongoing rapport between the countries that extends back over 70 years.

Austin’s visit to Cambodia comes after his attendance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where he engaged in discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun. The meeting was part of an ongoing effort to reopen channels of communication between the United States and China amidst escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Historically, ties between the U.S. and Cambodia have been strained due to Cambodia’s close alliance with China, particularly China’s military presence at a naval base in the Gulf of Thailand. The United States has also voiced concern over what it perceives as declining in Cambodia, citing repeated suppression of political dissidents and critics.

Cambodia has consistently denied granting any special privileges to China for military basing and maintains its position of neutrality in defense matters.

Austin’s visit to Cambodia marks his first since Hun Manet assumed the role of Prime Minister last year, succeeding his father Hun Sen, who held the position for 38 years. The transition led to speculation about a possible shift in U.S.-Cambodia relations, but Hun Manet has thus far continued his father’s political policies.

Prior to becoming the Prime Minister in August, Hun Manet was known as the commander of Cambodia’s army. Both Austin and Hun Manet are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, with Austin graduating in 1975 and Hun Manet becoming Cambodia’s first cadet there in 1999.

Later on Tuesday, Austin held separate talks with Hun Sen, who currently serves as President of the Cambodian Senate.

Following his visit to Cambodia, Austin will travel to France to participate in events commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.