U.S. turns to music in bid to woo Cambodians

From Reuters - March 7, 2018

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - With U.S.-Cambodian relations at a low and Chinese influence growing, Washington is trying a new way to win hearts and minds: sponsoring a well-known Cambodian musician to sing positive songs about America.

When there is tension, countries seek ways to ease it so arts and culture can help, said 37-year-old Yorn Young, who launched his Lovin USA album in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. He was not worried if people thought it was propaganda, he added.

Yorn Young told Reuters he was getting over $10,000 from the United States for a concert on March 17 in Kampong Thom province, north of the capital. More concerts could follow if it is a success.

Diplomatic ties between the United States and Cambodia have worsened during a crackdown on opponents of authoritarian leader Hun Sen, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for 33 years and made it one of Chinas closest regional allies.

The United States scaled back aid after the main opposition leader was arrested and his party banned ahead of an election in July. Planned aid for Cambodia has also been reduced as part of more general cuts under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the government accuses the United States of supporting opposition plots to win power.

Yorn Youngs music could help improve the relationship, the U.S. embassy said.

I think it brings us closer together, said Cultural Affairs Officer Monica Davis.

Hun Sen often reminds Cambodians about devastating U.S. bombing that began in the late 1960s and a coup by a U.S.-backed general in 1970. Shortly afterwards, U.S. troops invaded from Vietnam and war engulfed the country, leading to the takeover by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Public opinion toward the United States in generally favorable, however. A 2016 survey showed that 85 percent of Cambodians had a positive view of the U.S. impact on the region.


From Americas perspective, they have lost Cambodia to China. What they continue to possess is the goodwill of the Cambodian people, said political commentator Ou Virak.


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