Cambodia Wants China Warships: Navy Commander
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tea Banh (L) holding a welcome ceremony for the visiting Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan prior to their talks in Phnom Penh on the morning of November 6, 2015.

Cambodia Wants China Warships: Navy Commander

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Cambodia is eyeing the purchase of two Chinese warships, the country’s naval commander said Wednesday according to local media outlets following the first-ever joint exercise between the two countries.

As I reported a few days ago for The Diplomat, China and Cambodia held their first ever joint naval drill this week, cementing the relationship between Beijing and one of its closest Southeast Asian partners even as regional concerns continue to mount about its assertiveness in the South China Sea (See: “China, Cambodia Hold First Naval Exercise Amid South China Sea Fears”).

Following the exercise, Cambodia’s navy commander Tea Vinh met with his Chinese counterpart Rear Admiral Yu Manjiang at the navy headquarters in Phnom Penh, where both sides discussed Beijing potentially supplying its partner with warships to defend its maritime territory.

“The Chinese Ministry of De­fense would supply two warships in the future…. This is my vision,” Tea Vinh said according to The Cambodia Daily.

Though he did not specify which ships the Cambodian navy had wanted, he did say that it was looking for 140-meter ships that could accommodate crews of 100 with sophisticated missile systems.

China already has a strong defense relationship with Cambodia, one of Beijing’s key partners in Southeast Asia. As I have noted before, China is the largest donor of military aid to Cambodia, and defense ties have been strengthening over the past few years (See: “Why is a Big Cambodia Military Delegation in China?”). The boosting of ties in the naval domain is thus only the latest step in the development of bilateral defense relations.

That said, the commander was careful to emphasize that communication is still ongoing between the two defense ministries on the issue. He also clarified that the vessels would not be used for war and only to protect Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“We want to stop our neighboring countries from looking down on us,” he said. “I want these two big ships, not for making war, but just to show that they can’t look down on Cambodia.”

His Chinese counterpart did not comment on the issue at the bilateral meeting, though he did confirm that China would look to further enhance its relationship with Cambodia in the maritime domain.

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