President Biden to Meet Cambodian PM Hun Sen at US-ASEAN Summit

Washington, D.C. – President Joe Bidden sent Prime Minister Hun Sen a letter on January 14, 2022 stating he intends to invite ASEAN leaders to Washington for a special summit meeting in the coming months. He highlighted Cambodia as the 2022 ASEAN Chair, “the United States hopes to grow our relationship with ASEAN and continue to pursue our common goals in the region.”

The letter didn’t mention when the meeting will take place but the President wrote that he looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Hun Sen to Washington at the earliest opportunity.

United States President Joe Biden. Courtesy by White House’s Twitter

An Open Letter to President Biden by civil society organizations, a collaboration between Cambodia and Myanmar Solidarity Working Group, is urging the president and his administration to take actions to promote democracy and human rights in the upcoming the US-ASEAN special summit. The letter was sponsored by 49 organizations and has collected 949 signatures at the time of this report on

The joint letter called on the United States to not recognize the 2022 commune and 2023 parliamentary Cambodian elections, because there is “no chance of fitting the definition of free and fair elections” the statement said.

In the 2013 national election, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) received 55 of 123 parliament seats, and in the 2017 commune election, CNRP received 5,007 of 11,572 council seats. However, this opposition party was dissolved by Hun Sen’s government after party president Kem Sokha was arrested, preventing the it from participating in the 2018 national election. Since then, the former CNRP President Sam Rainsy, Deputy Vice President Mu Sochua and many senior party leaders have lived in exile and are unable to return to Cambodia.

The joint letter requested that the opposition party CNRP have “the opportunity to present their vision towards democracy, human rights, and rule of law by holding a parallel summit in Washington, D.C. at the same time as the US-ASEAN summit.”

Min Aung Hlaing delivers a speech at the IX Moscow in Russia in June 2021 (EPA)

In parallel, the Myanmar crisis has been an issue of discussion among nations in the last several months as armed conflicts continue to grow, humanitarian workers are still unable to deliver aids, and nearly half a million people are displaced. The military junta coup in Feb 1, 2021 ousted the Democratic League Party of Aung San Suu Skyi, which won a landslide victory in the 2020 election.

The joint letter asked that President Biden invite the National Unity Government (NUG) to the upcoming US-ASEAN summit, “because it’s the only legitimate representative of the Myanmar people,” and reject the military junta’s plan for an election in 2023. The National Unity Government of Myanmar was formed after the attempted coup and is comprised of a diverse group including elected parliament from the 2020 election, national assembly and union assembly, union ministers for the central government, civil disobedience movement, gen z, spring revolution, civil society and ethnic arms organizations. Under the federal democracy charter, the National Unity Government was formed in April 2021 as result of a meeting with all factions. According to NUG Foreign Minister Bo Hla Tint who serves as the Ambassador to ASEAN, “the National Unity Government is the most inclusive forum in the history of Burma, our goal is after we defeat the military, we will establish a genuine democratic union for Myanmar, guarantee ethnic equality, freedom, and justice for everyone.”

It is unclear if their requests will be met. Ambassador Tint said NUG also made the same request last year but the White House was silent. “We understand it’s a difficult diplomatic situation; however, we asked that the democratic loving nations to do more than just release a statement of support, but take concrete actions because it’s a matter of regional stability, not just in Myanmar.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during 2021 ASEAN Summit. File Photo.

At this time, Prime Minister Hun Sen has corresponded with President Biden saying he looks forward to come to Washington D.C. As Chairman of the ASEAN in 2022, Hun Sen visited Myanmar last month despite strong objections from ASEAN member states. His policy for Myanmar of a national ceasefire and open dialogue has failed, tens of thousands of people are arbitrary detained for opposing the regime since the coup, thousands of civilians have died, and the armed conflicts have only intensified.

Finding a solution to the Myanmar crisis is expected to be the predominant subject of discussion at the US-ASEAN special summit. Under Cambodia Chairmanship, Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader of Cambodia for the past 37 years, also faces criticism for his lack of credibility to help Myanmar since there is no freedom in Cambodia. Similar to Myanmar, Hun Sen ousted his opposition through his court. Hundreds of the CNRP activists are in prison, and dozens more are summoned to court for treason and incitements.

Sam Rainsy, former CNRP President said, “Hun Sen found it convenient to convict me, so I resigned to avoid the CNRP from dissolving, yet it got dissolved anyway, even before Kem Sokha had a trial.” Kem Sokha became CNRP president after the resignation of Sam Rainsy but was arrested in September 2017, he was under house arrest for a period of time, then was allowed to have limited movement but forbidden from participating in any political activities since 2019. He went on trial last month, behind closed doors without independent observers, and left without a verdict. Hun Sen has control over the judiciary, legislative, and the military and has turned Cambodia into a one-party rule since 2018.