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Cambodia: Background and U.S. Relations

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Publication Date: April 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32986

Topic: Government (Foreign relations)

Coverage: Cambodia


Cambodia has made some notable progress, with foreign assistance, in developing its economy, nurturing a civil society, and holding elections that are at least procedurally democratic. A number of significant problems remain, however. Weak legal and financial institutions, corruption, political violence, and the authoritarian tendencies of the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, have discouraged foreign investment and strained U.S.-Cambodian relations. U.S. interests in Cambodia include human rights, foreign assistance, trade, and counter terrorism. Several current measures by the United States government reflect human rights concerns in Cambodia. Since 1998, foreign operations appropriations legislation has barred assistance to the Central Government of Cambodia in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen's seizure of power in 1997 and sporadic political violence against the opposition. The United States has also withheld assistance to the Khmer Rouge tribunal unless standards of judicial independence and fairness are met. Despite these restrictions, Cambodia remains the third largest recipient of United States assistance in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and the Philippines. S.Res. 65would call upon the Government of Cambodia to release Member of Parliament Cheam Channy from prison and to restore the immunity from prosecution of opposition parliamentarians. In 2005, the State Department placed Cambodia in Tier 3 as a country that had not made adequate efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons.

The United States is the largest overseas market for Cambodian goods, mostly textiles and apparel. With the termination of quotas on textiles for WTO member states in 2005, Cambodian exports are threatened by competition from China. Cambodia and other least developed countries (LDCs) are pressing the United States to grant their garment exports preferential treatment. S. 191 and H.R. 886 would grant trade preferences to certain LDCs, including Cambodia.

This report provides historical context, discusses political and economic developments, and raises policy issues in Cambodia that affect U.S.-Cambodian relations. These issues include human rights, bilateral trade, U.S. foreign assistance to Cambodia, terrorism, HIV/AIDS, the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and Cambodia's relations with its southeast Asian neighbors and China. This report will be updated periodically.


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