The BGA Cambodia team, led by Managing Director Bora Chhay, wrote an update to clients on U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Phnom Penh.


  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Phnom Penh June 4 to address lingering distrust issues between the United States and Cambodia that have long been a thorn in their relations. Despite their strong bilateral trade, Washington is concerned that Cambodia’s close ties with China may lead to a Chinese military presence at Ream Naval Base in the Gulf of Thailand, potentially destabilizing regional security.
  • This marked the first U.S. state-level bilateral meeting with Cambodian Senate President Hun Sen, Prime Minister Hun Manet and Defense Minister Tea Seiha in their current roles. The two sides agreed to improve their relationship by strengthening defense ties in support of regional peace and security. They committed to engage in dialogue to forge a new path in Cambodia-U.S. relations. Future cooperation will involve building trust, assisting in peacekeeping training and operations, resuming Cambodia’s participation in U.S. military education programs, hosting joint military exchanges on disaster relief exercises and providing training exchanges in the removal of mines.


  • Austin’s visit took place a week after the Cambodia-China Golden Dragon 2024 joint military exercise kicked off May 16 and ended May 27. The live drills focused on counterterrorism operations and humanitarian relief. Both sides also vowed to deepen ties during a meeting between Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Seiha and his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun on the sidelines on the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 2.
  • Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in December 2021 that his government would stop accepting requests to visit Ream after the United States imposed sanctions on senior military officials. The former prime minister said U.S. actions violated Cambodia’s sovereignty and that Cambodia received aid from China to modernize Ream Naval Base. He insisted Cambodia will not hand over exclusive rights to China to operate the base as alleged by the United States.


  • Hun Manet praised the cooperation and good relations between Cambodia and the United States. He noted that Austin’s visit should provide new opportunities to expand defense cooperation between the two countries, including efforts to tackle terrorism, human trafficking and drug trafficking. Hun Manet and Austin exchanged views on regional and international security and stability issues to participate in building peace, stability, unity and prosperity in the region and internationally, including initiatives that provide mutual benefits to the two countries. They also discussed mechanisms to rekindle cooperation in areas such as the exchange of military students between the two countries and joint military exercises
  • This historic engagement is a sign that Cambodia and the United States are taking steps to repair their relationship. Increased government-to-government dialogue is expected to rebuild trust and reshape political and defense relations for a new era. However, this could be undermined if the Biden administration continues to hold back due to human rights concerns and alleges a Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base, which would violate the Cambodian constitution’s provision that forbids foreign military bases on its territory.

We will continue to keep you updated on developments in Cambodia as they occur. If you have any comments or questions, please contact BGA Cambodia Managing Director Bora Chhay at

Best regards,

BGA Cambodia Team