Home Commentaries
Celebrating 60th Anniversary of Cambodia-US relations - July 1950-July 2010

Updated On: Jul 28, 2010

By Chheang Vannarith

1. Over the last 60 years, Cambodia-US have gone through rather fluctuated curve. It was disturbed by global, regional, and national circumstances. Only over the last ten years that Cambodia and US has enjoyed stable and gradually improved bilateral relationship. Learning from the past 60 years, we can draw some arguments here: the world politics dominate the bilateral relations especially in the context of cold war; hegemonic behavior and patron-client relationship cannot produce long term results and sustainable relationship rather it creates a resistance from within; equal relationship and partnership seem to work best; big country needs to recognize the  ownership of development and respect the neutrality and independence of foreign policy of the small country; small country needs to diversify their foreign policy.

2. So starting from this juncture of the journey, we generally can see deeper wider and stronger relationship between the two countries in the future. Notwithstanding such optimism, the future bilateral relationship is still vulnerable to global, regional, and national political economic changes.

3. Talking about relationship, we need to understand the level of trust, relevancy, and interest. These are the most important three independent variables determine the relations between states. How Cambodia and US can maintain such common interests is still a work in progress. In addition, we need to understand Cambodia-US bilateral relationship under the framework of regional and global context.

4. The world is changing dynamically in a non-linear way and it will be changed must faster in the next sixty years. Faster and freer flows of people, technology, goods/products, services, capital, and information will change the global political, economic, and social landscape in almost every corner of the globe. The world will be much more multi-polarized and many regional institutions comprising of small states will emerge to be one of the polar to have more level playing field with the big countries. The big countries will definitely find all means to get access to resources and raw materials to supply their industries back home. Competition between and among big countries will be much stronger which encourage the small countries to group together much closer for their survival.  

5. The world in 2060 will be facing with urban pollution and slumps. People living in urban area will be 6.5 billions in 2060 comparing with 3.4 billions in 2010 (according to UN forecast). How to support the urban people? What are the impacts of urbanization on socio-economic and political changes? These two questions are important for the current and future leadership. The urban people are the main stakeholders in political changes. They could create political instability if they are unemployed or when the face injustice or when they want to get something from the government. State leaders will find it extremely difficult to satisfy the urban people.

6. Based on the current population growth rate, the world will accommodate about 9 billions people comparing with 6.9 billions in 2010 (according to the UN report) while the resources supporting the human livelihood will be not enough. How people live in 2060? The lack of food, drinking water, and energy will be the main problem for human livelihood and lifestyle. Climate change and water scarcity will force many people, especially in developing countries, to move to other places or create conflict or war in order to reach necessary resources for their survival. Environmental refugees will be the huge concern.

7. However, there is still a room for hope. Human nature has the capacity to adapt to changes. Everything is possible for human being. Human creativity and technological revolution will take place to cope with the challenges the world is facing. For instance, another green revolution will take place to meet the increasing demand of the huge population. This revolution will introduce agricultural cultivation and food production system which uses very low level of water quantity or even possible can use sea water instead of fresh water.

8. Technology will be much advanced. Through rapid development of technology (bio-technology, nano-technology, green energy technology, medico-technology, genetic technology…) the world can solve many problems including food security. Green technology will save the world from further worsening the global environment by reducing the use of energy and CO2 emissions. Renewable energy technology will reduce the level of dependence on oil and gas.

9. Asia Pacific Region currently the center of the world will continue in the next 60 years. China, US, Japan, India, and Russia are still the main strategic dominant superpowers and middle powers in the region. The current security mechanism is US centric but in the next 60 years China and US will more or less share equal strategic and security significance in the region. China-US centric security mechanism/architecture will be highly possible. China will be the biggest economic power in the region following by United States, India, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, and other ASEAN countries. China-US relations will still strongly influence international relations in the Asia Pacific region. Cooperation and competition between the two will continue.

10. East Asian and the Pacific Community will be realized by 2060 when all regional leaders and people joint hands together to solve regional issues, provide regional stability, and development. Regional citizenship will be much stronger and regional institutions will be much strengthened. For ASEAN, it will be performing as a regional actor not a driver given the roles of China and US are so dominant. But ASEAN will be stronger in terms of having one voice and one community with one vision. Economically speaking, ASEAN and East Asia will become a single market and one regional production network.

11. The high level of economic interdependency will definitely bind the countries in East Asia together in preserving peace, stability, and co-development. Security risks will be much reduced due to regional integration and regional leadership and citizenship.  

12. East Asia and the Pacific will not suffer much from food scarcity due to high level of economic and technological development. But aging population will be the biggest problem to be addressed. Due to the current rate of population growth, in East Asia the proportion of population with 60 years old and over will account for 30 percent of the total population in 2050 (according to UN). Who will take care of them?

13. The world and Asia Pacific region will face similar human security issues such as climate change related security issues especially natural disasters and environmental refugees, food insecurity, water scarcity, ageing population, urban pollution and poverty, scarcity of resources and raw materials especially oil and gas to support the industries, pandemic diseases, and cyber-crimes. As far as traditional security is concerned, very low tension and confrontation between and among states are highly possible.

14. Cambodia-US relations will be influenced by the global challenges. Both countries will seek common solutions and act together to solve the emerging regional issues. Economically speaking, more investment capital flow will come from the US. Strategically speaking, the bilateral relationship is still much dependent on the changing pattern of China-US relations. Cambodia will be under stronger sphere of influence from China while US is still a hedging power for Cambodia.

15. Areas of cooperation between the two countries in the last 60 years focused on health, education, environment, and good governance. For the next 60 years these four areas will be continued but with different level and strategies. Educational exchange will be much stronger. Now Cambodian students need to get scholarship to study in the US but in the next 60 years Cambodian students will go there by their own pocket money. Concerning health care, US will pay more attention to medico-technology transfer to Cambodia. US can transfer knowledge and expertise to Cambodian doctors. Cambodia will be the destination for medical tourists and US can support Cambodia in this field. As far as environment is concerned, US will provide green technology and advanced agricultural technology to Cambodia in order to mitigate climate change and assist Cambodian farmers to adapt to climate change and increase food crops productivity. Relating to good governance issue, US will support Cambodia in terms of e-government and cyber-crime prevention and management.

16. Cambodia will have huge trade deficit with the US because Cambodia imports a lot of high tech products from the US while Cambodia still export textiles, certain agricultural products, and mineral products to the US. With the increase of services industry at home, Cambodia can balance the trade in goods and the trade in services.

17. Investment flow from US will be much larger than now due to the increasing domestic demand and ASEAN market. Most of US’s investment projects will focus on health services, financial services, IT outsourcing services, and education services. More tourists from US will visit Cambodia either under medical tourism or cultural and natural tourism. More tourists from Cambodia will visit the US.

18. Military cooperation between the two countries will be advanced to higher level in which there will be more frequency of US’s support in personnel training and exchange, military equipment provision, logistics support, joint peace keeping exercises, and military intelligence cooperation.

19. People to people relationship will be much strengthened through educational exchange, tourism, and American companies investing in Cambodia.

20. All these optimistic notes are based on three assumptions. First, Cambodia maintains its political stability with high economic growth, promote fair distribution of wealth, improve good governance, and strengthen public and private institutions. Second, ASEAN remains strong and relevant in regional economic and security regionalism. Third, China-US have good strategic and economic relations based on mutual trust and interests or at least at the manageable bilateral relationship level.

21. We need to learn from the past 60 years in order to move forward for the next 60 years. Cambodia, a small country, is still vulnerable to power conflict between the superpowers. A Cambodia-US relation over the last 60 years was mainly dominated by international power politics and ideology rather than economic development policy. Cambodia-US relation in the next 60 years will be shaped by economic interdependency and common regional strategic interest.   

22. To conclude, Cambodia-US relations in the next 60 years will rely on global, regional, and national environment. It forecasts more positive development will take place to nourish the bilateral relationship. Government to government relations will be stronger while people to people and business to business will be even much stronger.