China donated 50,000 new uniforms to the Cambodian military yesterday in a move representatives of both countries said was indicative of the two countries’ strong bilateral relationship.
The uniforms are part of a commitment China made last year to donate military supplies including 257 trucks to the Kingdom after the United States, angered by Cambodia’s decision to send 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China in 2009, reneged on a similar offer.
At a ceremony held at Cambodian Air Force Headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday, Chinese military attaché Zhang Jianlin said the donations would help bolster Cambodia’s military capacity and were a sign of China’s goodwill.
“Cambodia and China are friends and brothers,” he said.
Moeung Samphan, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, said the donation was the second largest China had provided the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, after the 257 trucks that were donated in June of last year.
“The aid will give RCAF more advanced and modern materials,” he said.
The donation comes as Cambodia and Thailand attend UNESCO-mediated talks in Paris on the preservation of Preah Vihear temple and continued to honour a fragile ceasefire brokered earlier this month that ended vicious fighting along the countries’ shared border that broke out in April.
Carlyle Thayer, a politics professor at the University of New South Wales who specialises in Southeast Asian military affairs, suggested yesterday that the donations constituted a soft gesture by China urging Thailand to exercise more restraint in the contested border areas.
“When China announces that it’s providing these uniforms, that has political implications, but uniforms aren’t going to kill you,” he said. “[China’s] not taking sides, but I think it [still] has a chilling effect on Thailand.”
Zhang Jianlin pledged yesterday to continue to help Cambodia bulit its military capacity in the future.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE
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