Preparations for the large-scale “Golden Dragon” military exercises involving almost 3,000 troops from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) begin in Kampot on Thursday.
The annual military drills with China follow Cambodia suspending exercises with the US Army in 2017 – a sign the Kingdom is further moving away from Washington and increasing its dependence on the Asian giant, analysts have said, with one urging caution against Cambodia finding itself locked in a “cold war situation”.
“The 2019 Golden Dragon exercises are being held to strengthen the good cooperation between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and to exchange experience."
“[They involve] joint exercises once a year in carrying out humanitarian tasks, disaster management, anti-terrorism drills, and peace maintenance under the framework of the UN in accordance with the cooperation between the two countries’ defence ministries."
“This year’s exercises will involve 252 troops from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and 2,542 from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces."
“The main weapons to be used this year include armoured personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, mortars, helicopters and air support weapons,” Ministry of National Defence spokesman General Chhum Socheat posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
He said preparations for the 3rd Golden Dragon drills are to start on Thursday at the live ammunition grounds of the Techo Sen Training School in Kampot province’s Chumkiri district. The PLA is set to arrive in Cambodia on March 13 for two weeks of joint exercises.
When contacted by The Post on Wednesday, Minister of National Defence Tea Banh declined to comment.
However, General Socheat said that Cambodia has the right to hold military drills with any country with which it has a mutual understanding, and the Kingdom welcomes all nations that wish to hold joint exercises.
“With China, we have held drills twice already. This is the third time and through our past exercises, we have seen that they help increase the capacity of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to a higher level by using modern weapons and techniques."
“China and Cambodia have a strong friendship, one that Cambodia can depend on to maintain our territory.”
Political analyst Meas Nee said the Golden Dragon exercises showed clearly that the Kingdom has been depending more and more on China to protect its interests, abandoning the West, with China using Cambodia to take advantage of its important geopolitical position.
“This Golden Dragon exercise will focus more attention on Cambodia from the Western powers, and the Kingdom should be careful not to push itself into a cold war situation,” he said.
But Kin Phea, director-general of International Relations Institute of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said claims that Cambodia has been increasingly depending on China while abandoning the US are a misrepresentation of the facts as it was the US that ignored Cambodia.
“Cambodia needs technical and material aid from China, and the sharing of experience and tactics to develop the capacity of its troops to protect the nation and its sovereignty – Cambodia cannot wait for the US because the US ignored Cambodia."
“These exercises will help us exchange experience and gain new knowledge and new military strategies, making our national defence better prepared.”
Supporting Phea’s comments, General Socheat reiterated the Kingdom has the right to hold military drills with any country with which it has a mutual understanding, and Cambodia will not abandon any nation.
He further reiterated that Cambodia welcomes all countries who wish to hold military exercises with it.
“With China, we have done this twice already. This is now the third time and from our past exercises, we see that it helps increase the capacity of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces by using modern weapons and techniques.
“China and Cambodia have a strong friendship, and we can depend on China to maintain our territorial integrity.”
Meanwhile, a high-level RCAF delegation led by Lieutenant General Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the RCAF and commander of its infantry, met with General Han Weiguo, commander of the Chinese PLA in Beijing on Tuesday, a press release said.
Han welcomed Hun Manet, hailing Cambodia and China as siblings with a “steel” friendship.
He said he hoped that the two countries would continue to strengthen and expand their relations and cooperation under the guidance of President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In response, Hun Manet also thanked Han for the warm welcome afforded to the Cambodian army delegation.
These discussions will maintain, strengthen and expand the ties of friendship and cooperation between the militaries of the two countries, Cambodia and China, the press release said.