Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Navy praises Hun Sen while musing absence of US, Australia

Navy praises Hun Sen while musing absence of US, Australia

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Two Russian warships docked in Preah Sihanouk in November for joint military exercises. Recently Cambodia has shirked similar trainings with the US and Australia. Photo supplied

Navy praises Hun Sen while musing absence of US, Australia

Cambodia’s navy has come out praising the “heroism and charisma” of Prime Minister Hun Sen, while noting with interest in its year-end report that military ships from the United States and Australia did not dock at Cambodian ports for joint drills in 2017.

In January last year, Cambodia cancelled its annual joint military exercises with the US. The following month, it did the same with Australia, with observers at the time pointing to a strategic pivot towards China.

Ouk Seyha, deputy naval commander, on Thursday said 11 ships from six different nations had docked at Cambodian military bases.

But, he noted, “Last year there was no US and no Australians docking . . . The US did not dare to come, but Australia had planned to come and Samdech [Defence Minister Tea Banh] had agreed for [Australia to come], but [Australia] said it was busy.”

“The interesting thing is China and Russia – they were happy with their visit and there were joint exercises,” he added.

But at the time, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said it was Cambodia’s decision to call off the counter-terrorism training with Australia, saying Cambodia was too busy with upcoming elections and a controversial drug crackdown. Cambodia did make time, however, to train with China two months prior in their biggest ever joint exercise, codenamed “Golden Dragon”.

The navy’s remarks come at the same time as a comprehensive collection of papers about Cambodia’s foreign relations, published by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

In one, focused on Cambodia’s defence strategy, Var Veasna, a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, noted that “both China and the US are two of the most important defense partners contributing significantly to the RCAF’s professional development and capability”.

“However,” Veasna wrote, the decision to postpone US and Australian military cooperation “has raised concerns about Cambodia’s future defense cooperation with Washington and the West”.

“Cambodia’s move has caused controversy about whether Cambodia is making a pivot to China . . . some defense analysts believe that such a move could have some negative impacts on Cambodia’s interests for its defense sector.”

Seyha also paid respect to Hun Sen’s “great heroism and charisma”, and claimed he had “brought political stability, eliminated the colour revolutionaries by taking action to suspend 118 [opposition] politicians and brought peace and security for the people across the country”.

Naval Commander Tea Vin also appeared to flout the military’s supposedly apolitical stance, saying there was a need to increase their activities “to prevent an attack by the enemy . . . and the traitor”, language reminiscent of that used to describe the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Cambodia’s navy. Deputy Commander Seyha said of the eight vessels purchased by the Kingdom between 2007 and 2017, only seven were ship-shape. One was undergoing repairs after running aground.

The navy also did not have “enough maps”, and radars at some bases were broken, he said. The Ministry of Defence saw an almost 20 percent bump in its budget between 2016 and 2017, to $462.4 million, and remains one of the highest funded ministries.

Additional reporting by Erin Handley

MOST VIEWED

  • Protests planned in New York as Hun Sen to attend the UN

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. But US-based supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) plan to throw eggs at his car as part of a series of protests to coincide

  • CPP: ‘Behave or Sokha suffers’

    The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman warned Kem Monovithya on Thursday that her attempt to damage “national reputation and prestige” would lead to her father, Kem Sokha, receiving even harsher punishment. Sok Eysan issued the warning as Monovithya, who is the court dissolved

  • News Analysis: Defiance can last for how long?

    The Cambodian government has so far stood strong in the face of mounting international pressure over its treatment of critics, but analysts, diplomats and ruling party officials now wonder how long the defiance can last. The European Union has led the firestorm of criticism, threatening

  • ‘Freedom fighters’ or ‘foreign puppets?’

    Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Meach Sovannara was joined by supporters at a rally in California on Saturday, where a US lawmaker hailed members of the outlawed opposition as “great freedom fighters”. However, a Cambodian government spokesman said such a phrase belonged to