China granted Cambodia about $19 million in defence aid yesterday as part of a military agreement signed between the two countries.
The pledged funds came less than 24 hours before Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie is scheduled to speak at the ASEAN Defence Ministers meeting, ostensibly to explain the country’s stance on the disputed South China Sea.
ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, along with China and Taiwan, claim portions of the resource-rich body of water, and it has been a flashpoint of conflict for years.
In recent weeks, the temperature has heated back up, with China and the Philippines sending boats to a disputed reef that both countries claim.
“It is good that is he is going to explain China’s stance directly to ASEAN defence ministers,” Cambodian Minister of Defence Tea Banh said in explaining Cambodia’s decision to invite China’s top-ranking defence official to speak.
Calls to the embassies of Vietnam, the Philippines and China seeking further clarification about today’s meeting were not returned yesterday.
Last week, representatives from ASEAN countries polished a draft of a Code of Conduct governing relations in the South China Sea.
The final version is due to arrive in China over the summer.
The military agreement was signed after a closed-door bilateral discussion between Tea Banh and China’s Guanglie.
Guanglie came to Cambodia on Sunday for a four-day official visit. He is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Tea Banh said that China will continue to support members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who train in the country.
“Chinese assistance is greatly contributing to building Cambodian army’s capacity in national defence, and the military co-operation between China and Cambodia has really improved,” Tea Banh said.
He also reaffirmed Cambodia’s stance to support the “One-China” policy, in which China claims sovereignty over Taiwan.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]