China Just Gave Cambodia’s Military a Boost


On May 23, China delivered a range of defense equipment to Cambodia as part of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to boost the capabilities of one of its key partners in Southeast Asia.

According to The Cambodia Daily, the delivery included 44 vehicles – including jeeps, rocket-launcher mounted trucks and at least a half-dozen anti-aircraft guns mounted on wheels – 20 forklifts, four mobile kitchens, some 2,000 kg of unspecified chemicals and 10,000 kg worth of spare parts. The delivery was formalized through a handover ceremony between Cambodian defense minister Tea Banh and Chinese ambassador Bu Jianguo which took place at the Infantry Institute in Kampong Speu province – a facility which was itself funded by Beijing.

The exact way in which the items will be used remains unclear. Chinese state media emphasized that the parts were for a training program for an automotive workshop, suggesting that they were aimed at boosting maintenance and repair capabilities. Lieutenant General Chao Phirun, the head of the ministry’s materials and technical services department, also reportedly said that the items would be used to train three of the Royal Cambodian Air Force’s (RCAF) Special Forces units to, among other things, go after illegal fishermen and cross-border traffickers. No further details were given, however.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

China is Cambodia’s largest donor of military aid, though other actors including Vietnam also have defense relationships with the country (See, for instance: “Vietnam, Cambodia Boost Defense Ties”). Beijing’s military ties with Phnom Penh have been strengthening over the past few years. In 2013, Cambodia bought 12 Harbin Z-9 helicopters using a $195 million Chinese loan. In February 2014, it received 26 Chinese trucks and 30,000 military uniforms. The Infantry Institute – reportedly China’s first attempt to build a large-scale facility of that kind in Southeast Asia – is also often cited as one of the clear demonstrations of Beijing’s overwhelming influence in Cambodia.

In a speech at the handover ceremony, Phirun called the new delivery “another historical achievement” in China’s military assistance to Cambodia. He also added that the resources provided would improving the skills of the country’s armed forces and enable them to perform various functions including safeguarding the country’s territorial sovereignty, engaging in disaster relief operations, preventing illegal immigration, and tacking a range of other threats including human, drug and arms smuggling.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief