Chum Kiri district, Kampot province – Thousands of soldiers made up of Cambodian and Chinese troops yesterday descended upon a 10,000-hectare training area here to kick off the largest-ever joint military exercise between the two nations.
Dubbed the Golden Dragon, the opening ceremony displayed troops in full combat gear against a backdrop of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and attack helicopters.
RCAF commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen and China’s Major General Feng Xiang arrived in the morning to inspect weapons, armour and other military equipment before upcoming live-fire drills.
In his speech during the opening ceremony, Gen Pisen said Cambodia and China will be stronger together after the exercise, which ends on March 27.
“We will closely work together in the exercise,” he said. “This joint exercise was funded by the Chinese government and it is a reflection of our strong ties and cooperation.”
Gen Pisen said to his Chinese counterpart that Cambodia has developed into a peaceful country after decades of civil war under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, noting that a lot of support came from China.
“We share knowledge and experience in order to develop the capabilities of our soldiers,” he said. “I appeal to our friends to please participate with enthusiasm in order for Golden Dragon 2019 to be a success.”
Before ending his speech, Gen Pisen said he is optimistic about the relationship between China and Cambodia.
“I wish to cooperate with both armies so that they will get bigger and stronger every day,” he said. “I strongly believe that both armies will commit to cooperate together to make Golden Dragon a success.”
Maj Gen Feng during his speech said forces had been preparing for six months for the event, adding that Cambodia is a “like-minded friend”.
“Cambodia and China have a long historical relation – we are good neighbours, close friends, loyal partners and like-minded brothers,” he said. “We are supporting each other, for in 2019 we will push forward together and push for an adept and close cooperation. We will join hands to push for development together.”
“On behalf of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, I congratulate the success of the opening ceremony of the Golden Dragon drill,” he added. “I wish the relationship between the two countries and armies will be stable forever.”
Major General Pen Sokreth Vithyea, head of a working group in charge of the exercise, said there are 2,542 Cambodian and 252 Chinese forces set to participate in upcoming live-fire drills.
“For the Chinese, they will use six helicopters, nine APCs…25 military trucks and 23,493 ammunition,” Maj Gen Sokreth Vithyea said. “For us, we will use four helicopters, 12 artillery guns, nine mortars, nine tanks, eight APCs, and 64 other heavy combat equipment.”
This year’s exercise focuses on counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, disaster response, UN missions and infantry engineering. It is the third joint military exercise between RCAF and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
During a press conference before the opening ceremony, RCAF deputy commander-in-chief General Eth Sarath told journalists that China and Cambodia have no intention to threaten foreign countries and that the exercise is meant to share experience.
“There is no threat to any groups or countries because many countries conduct joint military exercises,” Gen Sarath said. “We strengthen and share experience, just like how the United States held a joint military exercise with Thailand recently.”
Cambodia is willing to conduct joint military exercises with other countries, as long as those countries are willing to comply with the government’s set of conditions, Gen Sarath said, referring to the US.
In 2017, a joint military exercise with the US was cancelled, and the Defence Ministry said it was called off so the government could focus on a six-month anti-drug campaign and 2017’s commune election.
“Cambodia welcomes joint military exercise with other countries, not only China,” Gen Sarath said. “But we want other countries to file a request first.”
“If they are against our government’s policies, then there will be no exercise,” he added.
Gen Sarath said that most of the costs were shouldered by the Chinese and that the government is already planning another exercise for next year.