As a harbinger of what a Trump administration’s foreign policy might be beleaguered with, Cambodia has announced it is scrapping an annual joint military exercise with American forces. This comes as the US and China battle for influence in Southeast Asia and signs that the incoming US president may take a tougher line than his predecessor with regard to Chinese ambitions in the region.
Pnomh Penh insists the two issues are not related, but its growing ties with China are becoming obvious and were highlighted by the first major exercise conducted by the two nations’ armed forces in December. Instead, it explained that the “Angkor Sentinel” exercise with the US (for both 2017 and 2018) was being cancelled owing to domestic commitments including elections in mid-year and an ongoing anti-drug campaign that would distract the armed forces.
Amid other moves putting greater distance between the US and regional powers – notably the significant cooling of relations between the Philippines and the US – some observers see Cambodia’s announcement as an indication of a possible closer relationship with China. Others believe the nation will continue the strategy of multiple alliances that Prime Minister Hun Sen has pursued for over 30 years.