The US defense secretary meets with top Cambodian officials to push for stronger ties with Chinese ally

PHNOM PENH – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Cambodia on Tuesday to push for stronger military ties with China’s closest ally in Southeast Asia.

Austin met his Cambodian counterpart Tea Seiha and Prime Minister Hun Manet during a one-day visit to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. It said Austin’s visit would strengthen the countries’ continued good cooperation, which has lasted for more than 70 years.

Austin arrived from Singapore, where he attended the Shangri-La defense forum and held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun, as the US and China gradually work to restore lines of communication between their militaries that could be crucial as tensions continue. between the two in the Indo-Pacific region will rise.

U.S. relations with Cambodia have been frosty for years, largely because of Phnom Penh’s close ties with China, and especially because of China’s military presence at a naval base in the Gulf of Thailand that has been expanded with Beijing’s help. Washington has also spoken out about what it sees as Cambodia’s poor human rights record, where political dissidents and critics have come under constant pressure.

Cambodian officials deny that China will have special basic privileges and say their country maintains a neutral defense position.

The visit was Austin’s first to Cambodia since Hun Manet became prime minister last year, succeeding his father Hun Sen, who held the post for 38 years. The transfer has led to speculation about a revival of US-Cambodia relations, although Hun Manet has so far maintained his father’s policies.

Hun Manet was Cambodia’s army commander before becoming prime minister last August. Both Austin and he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point – Austin in 1975 and Hun Manet in 1999, as Cambodia’s first cadet there.

Austin also held separate talks Tuesday with Hun Sen, who is now Senate president.

From Cambodia, Austin will go to France to attend events commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II, the U.S. Department of Defense said.

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