Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen arrive at the second Mekong-Lancang Cooperation leaders meeting, under the theme "Our River of Peace and Sustainable Development", in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 10, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Samrang Pring

China will provide military vehicles to Cambodia, Phnom Penh confirmed this week, as the two nations shore up military ties ahead of a joint exercise in March.

The donation of 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers underscores Cambodia’s pivot away from past reliance on Western aid and towards Chinese largesse.

The second joint Cambodia-China “Golden Dragon” military exercises will be held in Cambodia, aimed at anti-terrorism and humanitarian affairs, Phnom Penh announced earlier this month.

China held its first naval drill with the Southeast Asian nation in 2016, expanding Beijing’s clout in a region where the United States has been stepping up diplomatic efforts in recent weeks. US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made a swing through Indonesia and Vietnam earlier this month, with hopes of beefing up ties with the regional players. The Pentagon announced on Friday that the first ever visit of a US aircraft carrier to Vietnam will take place in March.

China’s armory donation also comes after this month’s visit to Cambodia by Chinese Premier Le Keqiang, where 19 aid and investment agreements were signed.

Phnom Penh broke the news that it will scrap the annual joint “Angkor Sentinel” military exercise with the US several days before Mattis’ trip.

Souring of ties with the West accelerated last December when the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Cambodia’s government to reverse a Supreme Court decision targeting opposition political parties, following calls for sanctions from US lawmakers.

For his part, Hun Sen was undeterred by the talk of sanctions. “You don’t need to just threaten us, just do it now if you are brave enough … but don’t ever think that such sanctions would hurt us,” he was quoted by Radio Free Asia as saying.

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