Murphy confirmed as US envoy

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The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Prak Sokhonn shook hands with Patrick Murphy in 2017. Post Pix

New US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy said he will “advocate for reconciliation, adherence to the principles enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution and efforts to protect the country’s sovereignty”.

Murphy, who is currently the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was confirmed by the US Senate on Thursday as the next ambassador to Cambodia.

“If confirmed, I will advocate for reconciliation, adherence to the principles enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution and efforts to protect the country’s sovereignty,” Murphy said.

He said he would “like to grow connections between Pueblo and Phnom Penh and Boston and Battambang by increasing the

International Visitor Leadership Programme and other exchanges and sustaining the Peace Corps programme through which hundreds of Americans have contributed to Cambodia’s development and mutual understanding”.

The confirmation comes a year after US President Donald Trump approved his nomination.

“I am proud of our work in Cambodia, including partnerships with civil society. Today, more than 85 per cent of Cambodia’s people are above the poverty line and enjoy a growing economy,” he said.

With help through USAid and other programmes, Cambodia has almost universal primary education, decreased maternal mortality and served as a model for tackling HIV/Aids, he said.

Murphy said it was regrettable that there had been a “backsliding in governance, rule of law and corruption”.

He said the Trump administration had been clear in stating its concerns regarding last July’s national elections, which he said “fell short”, in part due to the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) by the Supreme Court, the jailing of its president Kem Sokha and the banning of party members.

During his tenure in Cambodia, he said he would seek to increase the annual $3.5 billion two-way trade by promoting US business interests, Cambodian adherence to international labour standards and levelling the field for US investors and workers.

Searching for US personnel missing from the period of the Indochina conflict was also an issue close to his heart, he said.

US embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg declined when The Post asked for her comments.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Ket Sophann said the ministry had not received official communication from the US government on the matter.

Murphy made a two-page statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last December regarding his commitment to the new position.

“If confirmed, I will work closely with the US Congress to advance US interests in Cambodia, promoting democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms; building on the strong support the US enjoys among the Cambodian public; and strengthening cooperation on our vision for the Indo-Pacific,” Murphy said at the time.

A statement from the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations last month said: “With extensive experience across Southeast Asia and in multilateral diplomacy, political-military affairs, human rights and conflict resolution, his leadership and management skills make him an excellent candidate to promote good governance, economic reform and regional cooperation as US Ambassador to Cambodia.”

It said Murphy has more than 26 years’ experience in the Foreign Service. He has received 12 notable awards from the State Department, including the Expeditionary Service Award.

He also received a Superior Civilian Service Award from the Department of the Army, the statement said.

Murphy began his diplomatic career in 1992 when the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) organised elections made possible by the Paris Peace Agreements and ending decades of devastating conflict.

Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the US embassy was in pressing need of an ambassador as the position had long been empty.

He said Cambodia-US relations were now greatly in the spotlight due to US suspicions of a Chinese military presence in the Kingdom and controversial comments made by the US embassy in Cambodia.

The US and Cambodia had bitter experiences during the 1960s and 1970s when the US pushed Cambodia towards China, and after 1979 when it pushed the Kingdom closer to Russia, he said.

“In this context, if the US keeps pushing Cambodia away, it is normal that a smaller country has to get a superpower, with a strong economy, to be a partner in cooperation. It is a global principle that a small country must find a big brother.

“All this means there needs to be an ambassador taking office and improving US-Cambodia political relations,” Touch said.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Cambodia expected the new ambassador to respect Cambodian sovereignty as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated in Bangkok on Thursday.

“We expect that we can talk to each other. There has been no confrontation between us recently, only advocacy. No one can say Cambodia has had a confrontation with the US because it is not true,” Siphan said.

Bradley J Murg, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Seattle Pacific University, said Murphy had “significant experience”.

“In my view, Ambassador Murphy’s appointment is wonderful news – he has significant experience and expertise in Southeast Asian politics and will bring that knowledge with him in his new role in the Kingdom.

“At the same time, his appointment serves as a wonderful opportunity to ‘reset’ relations with Cambodia after a recent rise in tensions between the American and Cambodian governments.

“I would expect that he will most likely begin his appointment in September. I don’t think the actions of the US embassy can be understood as ‘irresponsible’. In my view, the embassy has been very well managed in the absence of a resident ambassador.

“Ambassador Murphy will face several challenges upon assuming his duties – most notably working with the government to support and protect Cambodian sovereignty.

“Cambodia is increasingly dependent on China for aid and investment – working with the government to help diversify aid and investment and across many other areas will be essential if the Kingdom is to avoid being viewed as a ‘colony of China’.

“Unfortunately, that negative perception of China is growing in other Southeast Asian states as well as in the West,” Murg said on Sunday.