U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman confirmed in an e-mail that the exercises for 2017 and 2018 have been canceled. He said military exchanges and training programs are not affected. After the local elections in June, Cambodia will hold a general election in 2018 in which long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to face a strong challenge.
Some analysts tied the cancellation more closely to China’s influence in the region, which they believe will be exercised more vigorously after Donald Trump becomes U.S. president. Trump’s rhetoric on China has been unfriendly, and he has suggested that the U.S. may reduce its involvement in the region.
Southeast Asian nations, even traditional allies of the United States such as the Philippines, have recently drawn closer to China as Beijing flexes its diplomatic and military muscle in the region. Cambodia depends on China as its most important ally and has demonstrated its willingness to do Beijing’s bidding in diplomatic initiatives in the region, especially regarding Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“China is going to test the United States,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “This is one of the early test signals. Cambodia is a bit part in the overall picture.”