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Background Brief Cambodia: Is the U.S. Promoting Regime Change? Carlyle A. Thayer February 3, 2014

[client name deleted] We are preparing a report about real/perceived U.S. influence on Cambodian politics. We request your analytic input into the following three issues: Q1- To what extent do you think U.S. assistance on media/democracy building projects has the intention or effect of regime change? ANSWER: Cambodia’s Constitution provides for a liberal democracy. Its institutions are flawed because of the dominance of one party and one leader – Hun Sen. The U.S. has longed worked with the Hun Sen government. The U.S. is not seeking regime change per se, as the example of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The U.S. is seeking to level the playing field by strengthening democratic institutions and normative support for democracy. The U.S. has not exactly embraced Sam Rainsy whole heartedly. U.S. policy is best summed up the expression “give democracy a chance.” Q2- Why do you think the CPP routinely suggests that the U.S. is actively seeking to oust Hun Sen? ANSWER: Some Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) leaders deliberately use U.S. criticism of the Hun Sen government as a political ploy, much the same way Vietnamese party conservatives use the so-called “threat of peaceful evolution.” Rallying the faithful against outside interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs can be a powerful mobilising device, especially if CPP members think they will lose power. Q3-What are the U.S.' most pressing interests when it comes to Cambodian politics? ANSWER: The U.S. has an interest in Cambodia’s political stability. The major interest is to prevent instability in Cambodia from spilling over and affecting relations with Thailand and Vietnam. Allied to this, the U.S. has an interest in promoting peaceful democratic development and human rights, to safeguard the Cambodian opposition from repression and to respond to the concerns of Khmer-American citizens. The U.S. has long-standing interests in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, to assist in capacity building to meet transnational security challenges (organised crime, terrorism, people smuggling, pandemics, environmental pollution, climate change). The U.S. also has broad strategic interests in countering the influence of China; this has taken the form of the Lower Mekong Initiative which also addresses climate

2 change and environmental issues. Tried up with domestic stability are U.S. economic interests, particularly access to Cambodia’s oil and gas resources. In return, the U.S. is Cambodia’s largest export market. Finally, the U.S. has an interest in seeing ASEAN develop greater capacity as it moves toward creating an ASEAN Community by the end of 2015. The U.S. interest in Cambodia is to assist it to develop so it can contribute to rather than detract from regional security.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Cambodia: Is the U.S. Promoting Regime Change?,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 3, 2014. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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