With U.S.-Cambodian relations suffering, the United States is trying to a new way to spread positive opinions of America: through music.
Yorn Young is a well-known Cambodian musician. Last week, he launched a new album called “Lovin’ USA: Yorn Young Journey Across America.”
Yorn Young told the Reuters news agency that he is set to make more than $10,000 from the United States for a concert later this month in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province. More concerts could follow. He said he is not worried if people think his song is propaganda.
“When there is tension, countries seek ways to ease it so arts and culture can help,” Young said.
Yorn Young has performed at concerts sponsored by the Cambodian government, as well. He says he has a good relationship with government officials.
The U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh believes Yorn Young’s music could help improve the U.S.-Cambodia relationship. Monica Davis, a cultural affairs officer at the embassy, said, “I think it brings us closer together.”
Relations between the United States and Cambodia have worsened during a crackdown on opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has led the country for 33 years. Under his rule, Cambodia has become one of China’s closest regional allies.
The United States reduced aid to the country after opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested last year. Cambodia’s government has accused the United States of supporting opposition plots to win power.
Hun Sen often reminds Cambodians about American bombings of the country that began in the late 1960s and the U.S.-backed coup in 1970. Shortly after, U.S. troops from Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The war spread, leading to the takeover by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1975.
Lost to China?
Ou Virak is a Cambodian activist and political observer.
“From America’s perspective, they have lost Cambodia to China.”
Yet, he added, “In terms of soft power, America is still miles ahead of China…but China is catching up and the Trump presidency is adding a huge boost to that.”
The songs on Yorn Young’s “Lovin’ USA” album are about the beauty of U.S. cities and states that he recently visited. His visits were paid for by the U.S. government.
One of his new songs is called “Florida, Florida.” In a slow and emotional style, he sings lines like “Cannot believe it’s real. Smiling scenery so appealing.”
Yorn Young says the United States has remained important to Cambodians.
“In Cambodia, people spend U.S. dollars, the internet is American, everything is American,” he said.
Singer Yorn Young poses for a picture before a news conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 6, 2018. Picture taken on March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Sok Eysan is a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. He said he welcomed the musical efforts as a positive sign. But he also criticized, what he called, the Trump administration’s “support of its puppet, the opposition party.”
The United States has dismissed accusations of American support for a plot by Kem Sokha, who faces treason charges. Kem Sokha says the charges are meant to stop him from taking part in the July election.
The Trump administration said recently it was suspending or reducing several assistance programs that support Cambodia’s military, taxation department and local officials.
In answer, Hun Sen challenged the United States to end all aid to Cambodia and noted his country’s growing help from China.
Cambodia is expected to receive more than $260 million in aid from China in 2018. That is more than seven times as much from the United States.
Most Chinese aid goes to big projects such as building dams, roads and power structures rather than “soft power” efforts.