“You don’t want to get too dependent on any one country,” Clinton said in response to a question about China’s influence during a meeting in Phnom Penh today with Cambodian youth. “You want to look for partnerships that cut across regional geographic lines.”
Clinton’s Cambodia visit is part of the Obama administration’s drive in Asia to affirm U.S. leadership and provide a counterpoint to China’s rising clout. Both China and the U.S. are working to extend their influence in Cambodia, said Ernest Bower, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy group in Washington.
“There has been a real battle between China and the U.S. over the hearts and minds of Cambodians,” Bower said in a telephone interview. “We haven’t given up on them and the Chinese really want them.”
Clinton said that during a meeting with Cambodian leaders today she would discuss the $400 million in unpaid debt the nation incurred in the 1970s under a U.S.-backed regime. The issue is unlikely to be resolved during this visit, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
‘Unwilling, Not Unable’
While U.S. officials have urged the Southeast Asian country to live up to the terms of its debt agreement, Cambodia has been “unwilling, rather than unable, to pay,” Joe Yun, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, testified Sept. 30 before Congress. Cambodia is accumulating arrears to the U.S. while paying other creditors on time and in at least one case, early, he said.
One student suggested the U.S. forgive Cambodia’s debt. Clinton responded by saying she’d be willing to explore different solutions so that some funds might be invested back into the country.
China’s ties with and influence over its Southeast Asian neighbors have been a running theme since Clinton began a seven- nation tour of the region on Oct. 27. Cambodia is a member of the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations, which implemented a free-trade agreement with China at the start of the year.
Clinton yesterday highlighted U.S. civil projects in Siem Reap, visiting a shelter for victims of sexual trafficking. She also toured the temple complex of Angkor Wat. She is set to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, as well as opposition figures later today.
Khmer Rouge Jail
On arriving in Phnom Penh, Clinton visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a five-building complex that served as a prison and interrogation center during the Khmer Rouge regime, and where an estimated 14,000 to 20,000 people died.
Clinton signed the museum’s guest book, expressing the hope that “there will be a future of peace, prosperity and greater awareness of all that needs to be done to move the country forward, including trials, accountability and reconciliation.”
Clinton’s itinerary includes further stops in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and energy-rich Papua New Guinea. She is the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Cambodia since Colin Powell attended an ASEAN meeting in 2003.
Source: according businessweek.com
- You: Clinton urges Cambodia to strike a balance with China (washingtonpost.com)
- Clinton Presses Cambodia on China (online.wsj.com)
- Clinton Urges Khmer Rouge Trials (nytimes.com)
- Cambodia Urges Clinton to Convert $400 Million U.S. Debt to Aid (businessweek.com)