Austin to Cambodia opens the way for big defense reset – Asia Times

Austin to Cambodia opens the way for big defense reset - Asia Times

The future vacation by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Cambodia, which is scheduled for June 4, is the first time an American defense chief has made a formal diplomatic trip in recent memory.

Unsurprisingly, the media in the West has already oversimplified Austin’s explore by focusing only on the controversy surrounding China’s contribution to the Ream Naval Base’s improving. It is simple to see how China’s support in modernizing Cambodia’s army and harbor system serves as an attempt to establish a military appearance in the nation in the distinctive framework of Sino-US rivalry for local influence.

That tale disregards Cambodia’s authority and the real difficulties the nation faces in upgrading its military and purchasing contemporary naval vessels and tools to keep up with companions like Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia is one of the few viable options for such expansions at prices Phnom Penh can afford, so naturally, it has resorted to China in that battle.

Austin may run the risk of irritating his Vietnamese hosts by raising the Ream Naval Base matter, which Phnom Penh has long opposed because the Thai law forbids the presence of foreign troops on Thai ground. However, it’s not obvious to some observers that the naval base discussion will be at the top of his priority list. &nbsp,

Austin’s attend may occur as a result of reestablished and stable US-Cambodge relations, which deteriorated after the 2017 Angkor Sentinel joint military exercise was suspended. With the end of Vietnamese recruits ‘ scholarships at the US Service Academy in 2021, those strained relationships increased.

However, ties are undoubtedly up on a high, giving Austin the opportunity to experience a diplomatic environment. Cambodia is also scheduled to take over as the coordinating land for the US-ASEAN Dialogue from 2024 to 2027 as a result of the visit.

Long-serving prime minister Hun Sen had a more cordial relationship with Washington before stepping down, laying a less controversial base for his son, newly elected Prime Minister Hun Manet, who is a West Point Academy student.

His first action was to display kindness to Washington by permitting the US defence ambassador in Phnom Penh to visit the Ream Naval Base as requested in 2021. Although the initial inspection turned sour and involving a US official’s last-minute request to visit facilities that were n’t on the original itinerary, Phnom Penh showed a willingness to open the base for US inspection.

Cambodia late co-sponsored UN resolutions that condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the end of Cambodia’s 2022 ASEAN chair, Hun Sen made his first- always attend to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, which was widely perceived as a diplomatic shift toward mending relations.

W. Patrick Murphy, the former US ambassador to Cambodia, played a key role in stabilizing bilateral relations during his tenure, which saw the emergence of fewer recriminations and more dialogue over time.

These State Department efforts arguably have helped to set the tone for the Pentagon to engage in more important dialogue and, in the event, to revive defense cooperation during Austin’s visit.

&nbsp, The two sides will also be compelled to work together through Cambodia’s coordinating role for US- ASEAN Dialogue Relations ( 2024- 2027 ), which begins in July. Cambodia will facilitate every dialogue and co-chair important meetings between ASEAN and the US on topics of common interest in this capacity.

For instance, the US will need Cambodia’s facilitation in the ASEAN-US Comprehensive Strategic Partnership framework to bridge and, where possible, harmonise the priorities of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy with those of the ASEAN Outlook for Indo-Pacific.

Although Austin’s true plan for Phnom Penh is uncertain, it’s telling that he made the decision to travel to Cambodia following his participation at the Shangri-La Dialogue defense talk shop in Singapore, where he notably met with his Chinese counterpart and agreed to reopen communication hotlines to prevent tensions from erupting into confrontation.

However, despite the noise that the Western media has made around Ream Naval Base, the conditions are ideal for Austin and Hun Manet to reestablish trust in bilateral relations and raise bilateral relations to higher ground.

Vithoureakborndidh Chou is a Cambodian independent foreign affairs researcher and J. William Fulbright Scholar.