Remarks and Toast by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the U.S. Independence Day Celebration

InterContinental Hotel, Phnom Penh
June 29, 2017
(as prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Ly Thuch, Senior Minister and Second Vice President of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victims Assistance Authority, Your Royal Highnesses, other distinguished representatives of the Cambodian government, fellow members of the diplomatic corps, the private sector, and civil society, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to our annual Independence Day celebration! I hope you enjoyed that video. It is one of more than 65 videos our public diplomacy team produced this year. Together, they have been watched more than 2.6 million times. This may be the first time that we’ve outperformed Angelina Jolie in her adopted country!

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that it’s fair to say that it has been an eventful year for the United States.

Some of you may recall that last November, we held hard-fought national, state, and local elections. In January, for the 44th time in our history, we had a peaceful transition of power from one government to the next.

Our new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is busy building his foreign policy team to address the most pressing international challenges. Just last month, the Secretary welcomed the ASEAN Foreign Ministers to Washington, including His Excellency Prak Sokhonn.

Our Congress is discussing – and our media are covering very actively – health care, immigration, spending priorities, and many other topics. Vigorous political debates like these have been common in the United States for 241 years, and I don’t expect them to stop anytime soon.

It has also been a busy and exciting year here in Cambodia, one of the youngest countries in Southeast Asia. In March, the technology startup Khmerload became the first Cambodian company to receive venture capital funding from Silicon Valley.

Last month, Captain Vithyea Phann became the first Cambodian to graduate from the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy.

And just three weeks ago, Cambodia held peaceful, orderly and very hard fought elections that gave millions of voters a say in the way their communes are governed. We were gratified to have joined the EU and Japan in supporting the National Election Committee’s important work on behalf of the Cambodian people.

If you’ll forgive me, Your Excellency, the relationship between Cambodia and the United States has had some challenging moments over the past year. But of course, few friendships are without disagreements.

The United States and Cambodia enjoy a frank and open dialogue on many issues, including some difficult ones. But regardless of the final outcome we remain committed to supporting Cambodia’s political, economic, and social development.

Our economic ties continued to expand over the past year. The United States remains the largest single destination for Cambodia’s exports, and nearly twenty new factories opened up to produce travel goods for U.S. consumers. Corporate giants General Electric and Coca-Cola were among the many U.S. companies that made new investments here, tapping into a dynamic and growing market.

Our people-to-people exchanges are also booming. I am especially proud that a growing number of young Cambodian-Americans are returning to Cambodia to contribute to the rapid development taking place in so many areas.

And over in the United States, we are very proud that Khem Khouen was sworn in last month as the Park District Commissioner in Skokie, Illinois. We believe she may be the very first Cambodian-American woman elected to public office in the United States.

Speaking of Cambodian-Americans, my wife Sotie and I spent a lot of time on the road this year, from Koh Kong to Banteay Meanchey to Svay Rieng.

In May, we traveled to Sotie’s hometown of Krakor, in Pursat, where we met with nearly a thousand high school students who have many of the same hopes and dreams that Sotie and her siblings had when they were growing up – to get an education, to get a good job, and to give something back to society.

My son and I climbed Cambodia’s tallest mountain, Phnom Aural, in January, and in May, I spent a night with forest rangers in Prey Lang, where I saw the incredible natural beauty that Cambodia is working to protect.

I also completed – ahead of schedule – my goal of visiting every province in Cambodia. The last one was Koh Kong, which was off limits when I served here in the late 1990s. Today it has improved infrastructure and a growing eco-tourism economy, and is an excellent example of the spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship that is taking root in Cambodia.

We have seen many old friends, and made lots of new ones along the way. And so, on that note, I would like to conclude by sharing the microphone with a good friend of the Embassy and of the United States, H.E. Senior Minister Ly Thuch, after which we will raise a toast.

On behalf of Sotie – who is in California tonight – and my colleagues at the Embassy, thank you Your Excellency and thank you to all of our guests for helping us to celebrate the 241st anniversary of American Independence!

I would like to propose a toast to all of you in Khmer:

ដើម្បីព្រះរាជសុខភាពព្រះមហាក្សត្រ នរោត្តម សីហមុនី ព្រះមហាក្សត្រី នរោត្តម មុនីនាថសីហនុ និងលោក ប្រធានាធិបតី ដូណាល់ ត្រាំ ព្រមទាំងភាពរឹងមាំនៃទំនាក់ទំនងរវាងប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា និងប្រជាជនអាមេរិក និងដើម្បី អបអរសាទរខួបលើកទី ២៤១នៃទិវាឯករាជ្យជាតិសហរដ្ឋអាមេរិក។

(English translation: I would like to propose a toast to all of you in Khmer:
To the good health of King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, and President Donald Trump;
To the strong ties between the people of Cambodia and the people of the United States;
And in celebration of the 241st anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.)