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A Small State’s World and Neighborhood: Cambodian Foreign Policy and Relations

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Cambodia’s successful 2022 chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) highlighted its emergence as a player in helping to maintain regional peace and stability. Yet, the prevailing focus on the socio-economic weaknesses of small states and on Cambodia’s close relationship with China ensures that its regional contributions have been underestimated. After decades of armed conflict in mainland Southeast Asia, the Cambodian government gradually transformed its relations with its larger neighbors Thailand and Vietnam without relying on official military protection from a major state. Their renewed relations have been complicated by  prolonged negotiations over disputed land and maritime border areas and occasional armed and diplomatic disruptions, most notably during the 2008-2011 Preah Vihear conflict. In contravention to prevailing expectations that small states must rely on external actors, the Cambodian government has succeeded in managing relations with its neighbors on a bilateral basis and in stabilizing a conflict-prone sub-region in the long-term. This presentation positions the small state of Cambodia as the protagonist of its relational world. It proceeds in three parts. First, it introduces a theoretical framework for understanding how a small state conducts its foreign policy and relations during ongoing territorial disputes. Second, it provides an overview of Cambodian foreign policy. Third, it details the face-to-face mechanisms through which Cambodia has managed its relations with Thailand and Vietnam over the last three decades, thereby contributing to regional peace and stability.



Speaker: Kathrin Reed is a CKS dissertation research fellow in 2021 and PhD Candidate in political science and international relations at the University of Delaware and a lecturer at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. With generous funding from the Center for Khmer Studies and the Fulbright Program, she conducted her fieldwork in Cambodia from August 2021 to September 2022. For the last several years, she has worked for the Department of State-funded public exchange programs hosted at the University of Delaware. She earned an MA in international affairs from the Geneva Graduate Institute and previously worked on Southeast Asia projects at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance in Switzerland for four years. She is originally from Germany.

Moderator: Prof. John Marston, from the Center for Asian and African Studies of El Colegio de México in Mexico City, is the scholar-in-residence at CKS during the second half of 2023. His association with CKS dates back many years. Previously, he  received CKS research funding through our Fellowship programs and coordinated a CKS capacity-building project. Marston’s publications include History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (with Elizabeth Guthrie); Anthropology and Community in Cambodia; and Ethnicity, Borders, and the Grassroots Interface with the State. His articles have appeared in multiple scholarly journals and in edited volumes published by Cornell University Press, University of Hawaii Press, Edinburgh University Press, Palgrave, El Colegio de México, and Ateneo de Manila University Press. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the publications and through webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. The designations employed in the publications and through the webinars, and the presentation of material therein, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. as to the matters discussed therein. The responsibility for opinions expressed in the publications and webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers, and the publication does not constitute an endorsement by The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. of the opinions, views or issues discussed therein.


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