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US military engagement on rise

A Senior United States defence official denied yesterday that increased US military involvement with Cambodia was a reaction to concerns aired in Washington last month that China was conducting a “charm offensive” in the Kingdom. 

Capping off two days of “fruitful” meetings with Cambodia’s Ministry of National Defence, Robert Scher told a press conference the concerns, raised in a report by a Washington think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, were not the basis of his visit.  

“We are happy to have China as a responsible actor in the regional community, and we really are not basing any of our engagement opportunities in opposition to, or in conflict with, anyone,” he said.

Scher, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia, said the US Defence Department was becoming increasingly interested in what it was seeing as an improved and more receptive Cambodian armed force.

“We now see a Royal Cambodian Armed Force and a Ministry of National Defence that is open and willing and pursuing the right path for how the military fits into the system of governance. Based on that, we are able to engage more,” he said.

Scher’s visit comes amid a  flurry of US military engagement in the Kingdom. In August, Brigadier-General Richard Simcock, the US Defence Department’s principal adviser for South and Southeast Asia, paid a three-day visit to the Kingdom.

Yesterday marked the last day of the second Co-operation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise, a military exchange program between the US and Cambodia designed to improve the latter’s naval capacity.

The week of activities included a ceremony at the Sihan-oukville Port last Saturday.

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