Chinese troops are seen at a barracks in Cambodia prior to a joint drill that started on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

More than 200 People’s Liberation Army troops are on Cambodian soil for a joint drill on counter-terrorism and humanitarian operations.

The Chinese troops are staying at a barracks in Kampong Speu province on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

They are there with 280 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for the “Dragon Gold 2018” exercise, which will run till the end of the month.

Cambodian military commander Pol Saroeun said the exercise would be part of the slew of exchanges to mark the 60th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic alliance.

An army commander from the PLA’s Southern Theater Command also attended the opening ceremony held on Saturday.

Generals from both militaries will compare notes on anti-terrorism and emergency rescues. They plan to conduct live-fire practice with attack helicopters, tanks, and stage mock airborne landings, among other things, according to Xinhua.

A file shot showing a PLA general helping to train Cambodian soldiers. Photo: Reuters
“Dragon Gold 2018” started on Saturday at a barracks on the outskirts of  Phnom Penh. Photo: Xinhua

VOA has reported that China airlifted 70 tanks and armored cars for the drill, and all will be given to the Cambodian army.

But thanks to cosy ties with Beijing, Chinese-made helicopters, light trucks, rocket artillery, etc, make up a lion’s share of the Cambodian army’s ammunition and arsenal.

Despite seven successful drills held over previous years, Cambodia called off military cooperation with the Pentagon indefinitely early last year. With Beijing dangling substantial economic and defense aid, Hun Sen appears to now be happy to turn his back on the US and Western nations, who have been critical of his crackdown on political opponents, the media and civil society groups.

Beijing is said to have shelled out billions since diplomatic ties with Phnom Penh, initially established in the 1950s, warmed up in recent years. This support has bolstered the nation’s tepid economy and the dictatorial rule of Hun Sen, whose harsh treatment of political rivals has made him a feared and highly outspoken leader.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua

In the early 70s, the late Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk spent years in exile at a state guesthouse in Beijing, and was later treated at a VIP hospital ward, thanks to close ties with Mao Zedong and his successors.

Cambodia, in return, has sided with Beijing on contentious matters such as territorial claims in the South China Sea. Indeed, the position taken by Hun Sen in 2012 caused a serious rift in ASEAN, despite the fact the country has no stake in the hotly-contested waters.

Domestically, Hun Sen has emulated Beijing in his brutal suppression of dissidents and the opposition.

He revealed at the end of February that up to “10,000 tons of ammo” had arrived in his country to beef up defense supplies, although he declined to verify if the shipment was sourced from or gifted by China.

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