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Interview: Cambodian PM's U.S. trip could help improve ties: scholars

by Xue Lei, Nguon Sovan

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- As Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and other ASEAN leaders are going to have a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, analysts in Cambodia said the summit will give an opportunity to Cambodia to improve ties with the world's largest economy.

Mey Kalyan, senior adviser of the Supreme National Economic Council, said the summit is very important for U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) relations, and it is extremely significant for Cambodia as its ties with the U.S. have always been rather bumpy.

"Now, there are good signs that this relation could be improved as evidenced by the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Cambodia recently," he told Xinhua. "Like other countries in the world, Cambodia needs more friends for its security and development."

He said that as a poor country, Cambodia needs security, official development assistance, investment, trade, technology transfer, and human resources development, and all of which the U.S. has.

"For Cambodia, we want to see the normalization and improvement of relation with the U.S.," he said.

Joseph Matthews, director of the Phnom Penh- based ASEAN Education Center, said the summit would give an opportunity to Cambodia to ask the U.S. for more duty-free products to the U.S. market.

"The U.S. remains the biggest export market for Cambodian goods. Having more access of tax free Cambodian goods will boost local economy and productivity, and which ultimately will have a positive effect on labor market," he said.

Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said the summit will be a chance for Cambodia to boost economic ties with the world's largest economy.

"The U.S. is the main market for Cambodia. Attracting American investors to Cambodia is Cambodia's interest and motive," he said.

The expert said the forthcoming summit demonstrates that the United States gives equal importance to ASEAN as it does with China.

"This is the first summit between U.S. and ASEAN after both sides agreed to elevate their partnership to a strategic partnership last November," he said. "The summit clearly signals the U.S. commitment in supporting the role of ASEAN in maintaining peace, stability, and development in the Asia- Pacific region."

He said the summit is likely to focus on economic cooperation and integration between the United States and ASEAN, maritime security, particularly the South China Sea, terrorism and religious radicalism, climate change, water-food-energy security nexus, and cultural and educational exchanges.

"For the issue of South China Sea, ASEAN does not have authority or legitimate rights to intervene into sovereignty disputes between its member states or between its member states with other countries," Vannarith said.

Direct dialogue and negotiations between direct claimants are the most appropriate and effective ways to resolve the differences, he added.

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