Today the Cambodian and Chinese armies will hold their largest joint military exercise. Dubbed the “Golden Dragon”, senior military officials say it is a representation of current Sino-Cambodian relations.
They also say that since joint military exercises began with China in 2016, the drills have gotten bigger and bigger.
“It will be bigger than any other year,” National Defence Minister General Tea Banh said, adding that the exercise aims to strengthen the two countries.
It took weeks of preparation to get to this stage. Thousands of men had to be moved and stationed, and scores of heavy artillery and equipment had to be transported.
According to the National Defence Ministry, forces began moving tanks, helicopters and other heavy vehicles and equipment to Kampot province’s Chum Kiri district last week.
The ministry said military exercises are to be carried out until March 27.
RCAF commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen will attend the opening ceremony and Gen Banh will attend its closing. China’s Major General Feng Xiang will accompany Gen Pisen.
Ministry spokesman General Chum Sucheat says during the 15-day event, 252 Chinese soldiers will train side-by-side with 2,542 Cambodian soldiers.
“This year we will focus on drills on counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, natural disaster response, UN missions and infantry engineering,” Gen Sucheat says. “Some military equipment, such as armoured trucks, tanks, artillery, mortars and helicopters will be used this year.”
Two weeks ago, RCAF army commander Lieutenant General Hun Manet spent five days in China in order to bolster relations.
He met top Chinese military officials such as Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and commanders such as General Han Weigu and General Xu Qiliang.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Mao Phalla says Lt Gen Manet’s visit was also to discuss the “Golden Dragon”. In China, Gen Han praised Sino-Cambodian relations.
“I hope China and Cambodia will continue to strengthen relations and cooperation under the strategic direction of President Xi Jinping and Samdech Techo Hun Sen to ensure the development of comprehensive cooperation between two countries,” Gen Han said.
In 2016, Cambodian and Chinese forces conducted a nine-day joint military exercise in Kampong Speu province’s Army Institute.
The exercise, code named Dragon Gold 2016, aimed to enhance the countries’ humanitarian rescue efforts as well as disaster relief skills and it involved 97 Chinese army personnel and 280 Cambodian counterparts.
Last year in March, China and Cambodia held a 17-day joint military exercise dubbed Golden Dragon 2018. Held with 307 Cambodian and 216 Chinese troops in Kampong Speu province, forces focused on counter-terrorism and humanitarian relief.
Forces also focused on road repairs, mine and UXO clearance, bridge construction and disaster relief and resettlement.
They also took the time to mark 60 years of Sino-Cambodian relations, highlighting a shift in Cambodia’s foreign relations.
In 2017, a joint military exercise with the United States was cancelled due to what many speculated to be a souring relationship after the former opposition party was dissolved.
However, Gen Sucheat said at the time that it was called off so the government could focus on a six-month national anti-drug campaign and 2017’s commune election.
Paul Chambers, lecturer at Centre of Asean Community Studies, says the exercises demonstrate the relationship between Cambodia and China.
“Joint US-Cambodian exercises have fallen victim to the Cambodian government’s priority of showing China that Phnom Penh is geopolitically on Beijing’s side, given China’s massive investments in Cambodia.” he says, noting that there are benefits for both sides. “For China, they offer a tangible military foothold in Southeast Asia and for Cambodia, they represent a symbolic token of Chinese support to help the Cambodian government survive astride countervailing pressures from Vietnam and the US.”
Gen Banh says China and Cambodia are stronger together.
“The purpose of this drill is to strengthen the abilities of both nations,” he says. “There is nothing strange with this. Normally, friends help and join each other in exercises.”
Gen Banh says this year, costs are shouldered by China.
“They help us with supplies such as gas and ammunition. If others are willing to help us like this then we are happy to conduct military exercises alongside them,” he says, adding that Cambodia has not had a military exercise with the United States. “The US, they help us with nothing. We are not sure when exercises with them will resume.”
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, says the joint military exercise today is meant to promote partnerships.
“It is a reflection of cooperation and partnership,” Mr Touch says. “Cambodia would cooperate with any country.”
He says that ever since the US elected President Donald Trump, relations with the Kingdom have been souring.
“Cambodia is not an enemy of the US, but the relationship with it is difficult,” Mr Touch says. “If both governments can provide benefits to each other then everything will be fine, but I don’t think this will happen under the current administration.”
“The US should consider resuming military cooperation with Cambodia, but if it does not care, then Cambodia has other choices,” he adds.
WATCH: General Vong Piseng, Commander-in- Chief of the RCAF, and Chinese Major General Feng Xiang at the opening ceremony of the joint military exercise “Golden Dragon” in Kampot province’s Chum Kiri district on Wednesday (March13). KT/ Ben Sokhean
Posted by Khmer Times on Tuesday, 12 March 2019