Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

A new military vehicle is taken through its paces during the first Chinese-Cambodian Golden Dragon military exercises in 2016. The Ministry of Defence unveiled details for this month's iteration today.
A new military vehicle is taken through its paces during the first Chinese-Cambodian Golden Dragon military exercises in 2016. The Ministry of Defence unveiled details for this month's iteration today. Heng Chivoan

War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

The Ministry of Defence on Thursday warned civilians and aircraft to avoid a section of Kampong Speu province from March 15 to March 30 while Cambodia participates in its Golden Dragon military training exercises with China.

The exercises will feature 190 soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and 280 from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, 100 more soldiers on the Chinese side than participated previously.

first Golden Dragon was held in December 2016, with the government cancelling similar annual exercises with the US and Australia around the same time.

At the time, the Cambodian government claimed it was too busy with the upcoming July elections to hold exercises with the US or Australia.

Yesterday, however, an air force spokesman confirmed what was long suspected: the exercises were cancelled because the US and Australia “demand too many conditions”, said spokesman Prak Sokha.

Carl Thayer, an Australian professor and regional expert, said the excuse of being too busy was a “pretence”, though the election cycle may indeed have something to do with the cancellations.

“The last thing the Cambodian government wants is foreign military in the country [during elections],” Thayer explained.

In contrast with the human rights and political conditions set by Western powers, he said, “opportunistic” China has no qualms about the “evisceration of democracy”.

The US, meanwhile, has been openly critical of a widely condemned ongoing government crackdown that saw the forced dissolution of the country’s only viable opposition, as well as the arrest of its leader.

Sokha said three Chinese aircraft had already arrived in Cambodia, and Prime Minister Hun Sen recently bragged that thousands of tonnes of weapons will soon arrive in Cambodia, with defence officials confirming he was referring to equipment for the exercises.

Hem Tha, deputy commander of Brigade 70 – the host of the drills – confirmed that some equipment, including “armoured personnel carriers” would be gifted to Cambodia permanently.

“Please don’t be alarmed,” the announcement states, cautioning that there will be “live round” exercises.

Ear Sophal, author of The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Quest for Resources is Reshaping the World, said that the message is meant for both international and domestic consumption.

“A bigger Golden Dragon with lots of equipment you get to keep is always a veiled message both to those snubbed (the US and Australia) and to your own people: China’s got my back and I’ve got a bunch of new toys,” said Sophal via email.

David Josar, spokesman for the US Embassy, said that even though joint military exercises have been cancelled, the American military continues to focus on “humanitarian assistance”.

“We routinely send military personnel to help train Cambodian soldiers for the important, courageous and dangerous work they do as UN peacekeepers,” he added.

Updated: 7:37am, Friday March 9 2018

MOST VIEWED

  • PM imposes nationwide Covid restrictions, curfew over Delta scare

    Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28 instructed the municipal and provincial authorities nationwide to strictly enforce Covid-19 measures including curfew for two weeks from July 29 midnight through August 12 to stem the new coronavirus Delta variant. The instruction came shortly after he issued a directive

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Provinces on Thai borders put in lockdown amid Delta fears

    The government has decided to place several border provinces in lockdown for two weeks in a bid to prevent the new coronavirus Delta variant spreading further into community. According a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28, the provinces include Koh Kong,

  • Delta spreading in Kingdom

    Cambodia has so far detected more than 200 cases of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant, with 109 found on July 31 and August 1. The Ministry of Health has expressed deep concerns that the variant may have already reached communities and be spreading as some of the cases

  • China denies Mekong hacking

    As the US and its allies joined hands last week to expose what they allege to be China’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities around the world, the attention also turned to Cambodia with the US Department of Justice claiming that four

  • US' Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arrive

    The first batch of 455,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine donated by the US touched down in Phnom Penh on the morning of July 30. They are part of the total 1,060,100 doses the US has pledged to provide to Cambodia through the World Health Organisation-led (