China to train Cambodian army
China has signed a contract to train the Cambodian army and to supply Phnom Penh with new and updated weapons, starting with 12 helicopters.
- Published: 25/01/2013 at 08:35 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
Chinese Gen Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army (left), shakes hands with Deputy Defence Minister Moeung Samphan after signing the agreement on Wednesday. (Photo by Phnom Penh Post)
The ground-breaking deal, certain to shake up regional relations, was signed Wednesday in Phnom Penh at a low-profile ceremony held Wednesday in Phnom Penh.
It was signed by Moeung Samphan, Cambodian deputy defence minister and secretary of state of the defence ministry, and Gen Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, with Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh looking on.
The military training and the 12 helicopters "will help to boost the (Cambodian) military's capabilities," said Mr Tea Banh at the ceremony, according to an account from Phnom Penh carried by the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
"This will contribute to assisting the RCAF to increase capacity in national defense sector."
There was no immediate reaction to the low-key report from either Thailand or Vietnam. Hanoi, in particular, is likely to view the military training of the Cambodian army with major scepticism, if not outright opposition.
The move comes at a delicate time, with China under close examination for its huge territorial claims in and near the Asean region. Vietnam and the Philippines have been particularly suspicious of what they view as Chinese overreach in the region.
China has been increasingly active in military and economic affairs in Cambodia during the past several years. In 2012, Chinese companies have pledged to invest $8 billion in Cambodia, a figure equivalent to almost two-thirds of its entire economy.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated an extension of the Combined Arms Officer School, funded entirely by China.
As for Thailand, any upgrade to the Cambodian army will almost certainly result in both increasing hostility from the ultra-nationalist "patriots" involved in the dispute surrounding the Preah Vihear temple. There are likely to be calls from the military to upgrade Thai forces facing Cambodia, the only country with which Thailand has had armed conflicts in recent years.
On Thursday, top officials of the Chinese government's railways ministry signed a deal in Phnom Penh to design, fund and build a new seaport and 404km railway from Preah Vihear to Koh Kong, the island province just off the Thai coast. The railway will virtually shadow the the entire eastern border of Thailand with Cambodia.
China agreed to train, equip and upgrade the Royal Cambodian Armed Force (RCAF) after the United States considered, then rejected a request by Phnom Penh, a separate report by the Washington-based Radio Free Asia service.
"China has played a key role in improving Cambodia's dilapidated military inventory since 2010, when Beijing donated 250 jeeps (sic) and trucks to Cambodia's army after the US scrapped a similar plan," the RFA reported.
The US opposition to Cambodian military aid was a direct result of the decision by Cambodia to send 20 ethnic minority Uighur asylum seekers back to China for virtually certain imprisonment or worse.
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- Writer: BangkokPost.com