China signs cooperation deal with Cambodia army amid US strain

China signs cooperation deal with Cambodia army amid US strain

This photo taken on Jan 4, 2021 shows Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers assembling during military training at Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China's Xinjiang region. The Chinese and Cambodian armies signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday. (AFP)
This photo taken on Jan 4, 2021 shows Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers assembling during military training at Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China's Xinjiang region. The Chinese and Cambodian armies signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday. (AFP)

The Chinese and Cambodian armies have signed a memorandum of understanding, as Beijing seeks to deepen regional security ties amid increasing competition with the US.

Senior commanders from the ground forces of the two militaries sealed the agreement in a video call Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Wu Qian told a regular news briefing in Beijing. He didn’t elaborate on the details of the agreement. 

“China and Cambodia are close neighbours and iron-clad friends,” Wu said. “In recent years, the pragmatic cooperation between the two militaries in various fields, including strategic communication, joint exercises and training, exchanges and personnel training, has continued to deepen.” 

The agreement was signed by General Liu Zhenli, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces, and General Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Army. Hun Manet, who studied at the US Military Academy at West Point, is the eldest son Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and has been endorsed by the nation’s ruling party as its future leader.

The announcement comes days after revelations that China was crafting a security pact with the Solomon Islands, that would give its warships a safe harbour some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the Australian coast. Ministers from Australia and New Zealand have expressed concern about the deal’s impact on security in the South Pacific. 

Ties between the US and Cambodia have been tense following reports in 2019 that Beijing signed a secret agreement to allow its armed forces to exclusively use parts of the Asian nation’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand. While the Chinese military has denied the reports, the Biden administration in November imposed sanctions against involved companies and individuals, including two senior Cambodian defence officials for corruption related to the base. 

That was followed by a Department of Commerce arms embargo on Cambodia over its military connections to China, which the US side said “undermines and threatens regional security”. 

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