U.S. Ambassador Meets with Local Cambodian American Community

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asia Weekly

United States Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy (right)

As United States Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy is responsible for representing the United States in Cambodia.

Part of that job is to strengthen the relationship between the two countries – and the approximately 330,000 people of Cambodian descent living in the United States play an important role in that relationship. So when the Seattle-Sihanoukville Sister City Association (Sea-Sih) invited him to visit Seattle and meet the local Cambodian American community, Murphy agreed, telling Northwest Asian Weekly it was a “great opportunity.”

But with a job that requires him to spend most of his time abroad, it wasn’t until June 27 that this opportunity materialized. Murphy’s one-day visit to Seattle was part of his first international trip in about a year. He came at the end of his visit to the United States, having spent a few days in the other Washington before coming to Emerald City and then returning to Cambodia.

Murphy’s stay in Seattle included meeting with members of the local Cambodian American community and Port of Seattle officials, a visit to the University of Washington’s Southeast Asia Center, and meeting with members of the school’s Khmer Student Association. Murphy concluded his visit with a dinner reception at China Harbor in Seattle, hosted by Sea-Sih and the Cambodian American Community Council of Washington (CACCWA).

“We’re lucky, very, very lucky,” said Bill Oung, CACCWA co-founder and interim chairman of the board, of Murphy’s experience and willingness to meet with the community. “[Seattle is] a community close to his heart, [U.S. Embassy in Cambodia].”

Murphy was appointed Ambassador in August 2019. Prior to this position, his work in the US Foreign Service began in 1992. He served in diplomatic missions in Burma (Myanmar), China, Iraq, Guinea and Mali. His most recent positions include leading the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs as a senior bureau official (Acting Assistant Secretary of State) from 2018 to 2019, and as Deputy Under Secretary of State for Southeast Asia from 2016 to 2018.

Speaking at the reception, Murphy told attendees it was a pleasure to visit Seattle, commenting on the area’s love of coffee as well as the heat wave that coincided with his visit, which many told him. had said. Dressed in a dark blue suit, he reminded the crowd that he spends most of his time in Cambodia.

“You forget where you came from,” joked Murphy, laughing from a room full of many people who had emigrated from the tropical country.

Cambodia and COVID-19

In his speech, Murphy discussed the state of Cambodia, including how the country has been affected during the pandemic.

With COVID-19 having limited travel in recent years, Sea-Sih’s overseas programs, which focus on cultural exchange between Seattle and the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, have gone on hiatus. That’s one of the reasons Murphy’s visit to Seattle was important to the local Cambodian community, said Sea-Sih board member Thyda Ros. It was a chance for them to learn about what happened in Cambodia, how COVID-19 is treated, people’s access to health care and how the pandemic has impacted the economy and people. people’s livelihoods.

“It’s something our community wants to hear,” Ros said, adding that Murphy’s visit was also an opportunity for the local community – many of whom still have loved ones in Cambodia – to let the ambassador know what are their concerns about Southeast Asia. countries, and what the United States can do to support the effort in a meaningful way.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to have our voices heard.”

From a public health perspective, Murphy said Cambodia has weathered the pandemic quite well. The United States and Cambodia have a longstanding relationship in this area – with organizations and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Navy in Cambodia and have helped the country combat other infectious diseases in the past. .

“It helped Cambodia through the pandemic,” Murphy said. Thanks to public awareness campaigns on safety measures such as washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing, the country has recorded low death and hospitalization rates. Additionally, Cambodia has a very high vaccination rate, with people queuing to get vaccinated once it – and subsequent boosters and age group openings – become available. The United States has also donated 3 million vaccine doses to Cambodia, and plans to donate more this year, Murphy said.

“We are proud to be part of this history”

While the country’s public health has fared well during the pandemic, Murphy said Cambodia’s economy has been hit as it relies heavily on tourism. And with almost no tourism for about two years, many people have lost their jobs and their wages. In addition, he said, migrant workers who worked abroad returned home, adding another mouth to feed in the households of their families, many of whom were already coping with less income.

That being said, some of this economic impact has been mitigated by the fact that Cambodia has continued to develop its export sector, particularly in textiles – expanding by 30% last year, with an expected expansion of 40 % this year – with the United States. being its biggest market, Murphy said.

“That means a lot of jobs in Cambodia,” he said.

International relations and the fight against crime

Other topics Murphy touched on include Cambodia being the president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year. The role rotates annually among the 10 member countries and involves organizing meetings with representatives from all levels of countries in the region, as well as other partner countries, throughout the year. This also includes a summit with heads of state and national leaders, with this year scheduled for the fall.

Additionally, Murphy explained how the Embassy works to help return heritage items and antiquities looted from Cambodia whenever they are discovered around the world.

“We are doing our part to restore them,” he said.

He also told Northwest Asian Weekly how fighting international crime, which includes trafficking (in human beings, narcotics and flora), as well as financial crimes that cross borders, is part of his job, and that Cambodia is no exception to these problems.

Questions from the audience

Following his address, those present at the reception had the opportunity to ask questions of the Ambassador. One referred to the recent U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Murphy spoke about the importance of women’s health around the world, noting that women in Cambodia carry many burdens and that he is proud of them – of their success in the classrooms and in business – everything recognizing that they always reach ceilings and do not hold much leadership. posts.

“Their health is important,” Murphy said.

Cambodia’s electoral process, the arrest and sentencing of Cambodian American lawyer Theary Seng and dozens of members of a now defunct political opposition party for alleged treason were also questioned by members of the audience. In response, Murphy spoke of the importance of people being able to speak freely, which is a key part of democracy, although he added that the best form of government for Cambodia is for Cambodians to decide.

Murphy noted that people asked him tough questions, which he liked, and that he rarely got those types of questions in Cambodia because people didn’t feel as free to say what they thought.

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