More than 400 Cambodian military officials are to receive training in China, the latest sign of the increasing importance of Beijing military aid.
Minister of Defence Tea Banh on Saturday said that following discussions last week with Xu Qiliang, chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, China would offer more than 400 training scholarships to Cambodian officers. Xu held talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Banh during a four-day visit.
During a closed-door meeting at the Peace Palace on Friday, Hun Sen expressed thanks to China for supporting Cambodia’s development, state media reported. “This is the first time ever that China has pledged to train a large number of military personnel in China and [the decision] marks greater bilateral military cooperation between Cambodia and China,” Banh said after the meeting.
“It is very important to share ideas during these visits with each other to promote the relationship, friendship and cooperation,” he added.
Xu also visited the Infantry Institute in Kampong Speu province, the High Command Headquarters on National Highway 4 and the Combined Arms Officer School Thlok Tasek near Pich Nil town.
China has been ramping up military aid to Cambodia for years, and in January 2013 signed an agreement to increase training and equipment donations. Since then, China has donated at least 26 trucks and 30,000 military uniforms, while in November, the government unveiled 12 Harbin Z-9 helicopters purchased from China.
In July 2013, when a group of US lawmakers called for cutting off direct aid, particularly military, unless the election was “free and fair”, Hun Sen scoffed at the $1 million in annual military aid he said the US gave, saying China could easily plug the gap.
Kem Ley, a political analyst, said Cambodia must balance the need for aid from both sides while remaining neutral.
“Cambodia is on the right track in terms of the political situation to receive military aid from China and Vietnam,” he said. “But it [Cambodia] has to be neutral.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE