Over the past couple of weeks Phnom Penh has been abuzz with discussion of the visit to Cambodia by Michelle Obama (now completed), with comparisons being drawn with the visit in 1967 of Jacqueline Kennedy. The coverage in the Phnom Penh Post is reflective of the interest shown in the lead-up to the visit, and of the comparisons drawn with Kennedy (disclosure: I am quoted on a number of points in the Post's article).
With the visit announced as long ago as November, it is difficult to judge the extent to which Hun Sen's government will benefit from having the First Lady make such a visit or, conversely, the degree to which Michelle Obama's visit has significance for the the Obama Administration's 'pivot to Asia'. The fact that Michelle Obama has placed great emphasis on the education of young women during her visit has been seen by some commentators as a less-than-coded criticism of the Hun Sen Government's failings more generally, particularly with her reference to education of women making it possible for their participation 'in the political life of their country', which allows them to 'hold their leaders accountable'.
While there could scarcely be a greater contrast between the circumstances in which Jacqueline Kennedy visited and the visit just made by Michelle Obama, there is one underlying similarity: the sense that both the US and Cambodia are concerned not to let their differences overshadow the desirability of a finding a middle path accommodation that suits both their interests. That said, there is no reason to think Hun Sen will change his government's view that China is and will remain Cambodia's most important foreign friend.
Image courtesy of @FLOTUS.