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‘Good Prospects’ for Improved US Relations, Cambodia Lawmaker Says

FILE - Hun Many, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's son, attends the Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 9, 2015.

The U.S. and Cambodia have so far forged a good relationship, but there is room for improvement, a Cambodian lawmaker said Wednesday.

In a rare speaking engagement, Hun Many, a son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People's Party, told an audience in Washington that there are "good prospects" for the two countries.

"But it starts with us trying to understand each other, trying to put ourselves in each other's shoes, and [understand that] any decision is actually rational, in regards to the perspective of our own national interests," he said.

Hun Many, who spoke at the U.S.-Korean Institute under Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, said Cambodia needs more friends than just the U.S. and China.

"We don't only look at narrow spectrum of, ‘OK, I choose only this friend over this friend,'" he said.

Crowd reaction

Conor Cronin, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who attended the discussion — which comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to visit Cambodia next week — said that in the current context it is possible for a stronger relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia.

"I think the U.S. wants to be close, but they don't want to ignore human rights abuses," he said. "They don't want to ignore issues with corruption and governance in Cambodia. So I think the U.S. does want to be closer with Cambodia, and Cambodia wants to be closer with the United States, but they need to iron out certain differences before that's going to be possible."

However, more work needs to be done to convince others, like Michael Doung, a Cambodian American who attended the talk.

Hun Many and other lawmakers have done little to help Cambodia's youth who are migrating in high numbers in search of work abroad, Doung said.

"There should be broader education for Cambodian youth, quality education, and there should be jobs for them after they graduate," he said. "If they have to migrate outside of the country to seek jobs, what's the point of learning? It's just a waste of school tuition fees."

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.