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China steps up military aid

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General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army (L), and Cambodia’s Deputy Defence Minister Moeung Samphan (R) shake hands after signing an agreement, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army (L), and Cambodia’s Deputy Defence Minister Moeung Samphan (R) shake hands after signing an agreement, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

One day before today’s inauguration of a Chinese-funded military institute in Kampong Speu, China’s top brass met with their Cambodian counterparts to pledge increased military assistance.

Yesterday’s meeting between General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, and Defense Minister General Tea Banh, among others, was just the latest in a series of overtures offered to the Kingdom’s armed forces.

While details of a memorandum of understanding signed yesterday were not available, Banh told reporters that the government requested more military training and equipment from China.

“This will contribute to assisting RCAF to increase its capacity in the national defence sector,” he said.

Today, Prime Minister Hun Sen is set to inaugurate the Phnom Sruoch district facility, an extension of the Combined Arms Officer School Thlok Tasek, another Chinese-funded initiative dating back to 2002.

“We are pleased to support Cambodia for national development,” Qi told reporters yesterday.

At today’s ceremony, Qi and Hun Sen will address a class of Cambodian infantrymen who recently completed training in China.

The inauguration comes just days after Cambodian military officials announced a small fleet of Chinese-made Z-9 choppers would arrive within months.

The growing defence cooperation is unsurprising, said political scientist Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales.

“[The institute] makes for a breakthrough in China’s defence cooperation in Southeast Asia... China already trains limited numbers [of Southeast Asian officers] at their higher defence university... which is similar to the model the US has done,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for China to shape the future of Cambodia’s military.”

In the late 1990s, Hun Sen’s eldest son, two-star general Hun Manet, became the first Cambodian to be enrolled at the elite US Military Academy at West Point.

But while the US has traditionally been the major provider of military aid (funding tripled last year to $18.2 million), China is increasingly making inroads, said Thayer.

“You now have the US and China competing for Cambodia,” he said.

“It makes China the second-most important player.” 

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Stuart White

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