After Turbulent Term, US Envoy Bids Farewell

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador William Todd met with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday in his final official meeting, bringing an end to a tenure that saw visits from the U.S. president and first lady, as well as the disputed 2013 national election and violence that followed.

The ambassador chose to end his three-year spell in silence Thursday, leaving the meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Phnom Penh without taking questions from reporters.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong shakes hands with US Ambassador William Todd during their final meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong shakes hands with US Ambassador William Todd during their final meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said Mr. Namhong thanked Mr. Todd for more than three years of service, and for helping Cambodia’s young democracy grow.

“Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong told the ambassador about the government’s commitment to building democracy and the state of law in Cambodia,” he said.

Mr. Sounry said the two men discussed several issues facing the government, including efforts to ease tensions over the country’s border with Vietnam, the “culture of dialogue” between the ruling and opposition parties, and the NGO law, which Mr. Todd has said poses a threat to human rights in the country.

The South China Sea, where tensions are mounting between the U.S. and China, was also discussed, according to the spokesman.

Asked about the meeting, U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to comment and said Mr. Todd had “decided not to give any more interviews before his departure.”

Mr. Todd’s blog and weekly newspaper column proved to be a controversial platform for the ambassador, with his commentary on Cambodia’s democracy and human rights situation occasionally bringing stern rebuke from the government.

Phoak Kung, president of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said Mr. Todd’s regular criticism was symbolic of a broader tendency of the U.S. to be unfairly negative toward the Cambodian government.

“Cambodian leaders feel that there is a lack of appreciation on the U.S.’ side for all the progress the government has achieved, economically and politically, over the past decade,” he said.

Mr. Kung was reluctant to assess whether Mr. Todd could have done more to improve relations between the countries, but said the next ambassador needed a new strategy.

“I hope the next ambassador would be able to bridge the gap and work together with the government to find the common ground, not just the differences,” he said.

Sophal Ear, a Cambodian-American academic who analyzed U.S.-Cambodia relations in his book “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy,” said Mr. Todd’s term had not been a failure.

“Ambassador Todd had some successes, some failures. He’s human. Grading him on a curve, he was better than his immediate predecessor by far,” Mr. Ear said, referring to former Ambassador Carol Rodley.

“If Todd’s mission was to pull Cambodia away from China, then it hasn’t worked out yet,” he added. “If his mission was to promote democracy in Cambodia, then he had more success.”

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