A New Military Aid Boost for China-Cambodia Defense Ties?

As both countries commemorate their 60th anniversary and Cambodia heads to the polls, a new round of military aid is expected soon.

On January 28, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh reportedly confirmed that China would provide Cambodia with a new round of military aid. The report comes as the two countries are looking to boost their defense ties in 2018 as they commemorate 60 years of their bilateral relations and Cambodia moves towards elections later this year.

As I have noted before, Cambodia has been forging closer ties with China for decades, with Beijing being its largest donor of military aid and asking few of the questions to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen that some Western countries have over the country’s rights record. Closer bilateral ties work for both sides: they provide the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces (RCAF) with much-needed capability boosts to shore up the country’s security and give China a strong Asian partner that supports key Chinese initiatives and position from Taiwan to the South China Sea (See: “Does ASEAN Have a South China Sea Position?”).

This year is a significant year for bilateral ties, with both countries commemorating 60 years of bilateral ties and Cambodia heading into a general election. That is true for defense ties as well, where both sides recently confirmed that they would hold the next round of their joint military exercises “Golden Dragon” in March. As I noted in these pages earlier this week, the development fit into broader pattern where the CPP facing arguably its toughest test yet at home, has decided, at least for now, to continue to advance military ties with China who is happy to do so without asking too many questions, while cutting off or downgrading certain aspects of those relations with certain Western countries who may ask too many (See: “What Will the Next China-Cambodia Military Exercise Look Like?”).

Over the weekend, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh reportedly confirmed that China would provide Cambodia with another new round of military aid in 2018. According to local media outlet Khmer Times, he said that China would provide the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) with tanks and armored personnel carriers, with the equipment expected to arrive in time for the holding of the military exercise “Golden Dragon” in March.

Banh did not confirm the exact number of equipment being delivered or offer much in the way of further specifics on the upcoming transfer. But a report on BTV television had claimed China would provide about 100 tanks and APCs to the Defense Ministry’s Brigade 70.

The reported transfer of tanks and APCs fits with previous forms of Chinese military assistance, which has included not only military equipment that often makes the most headlines, but the construction of facilities and select training for Cambodian forces as well. The mention of Brigade 70 is notable because it refers to a notorious unit within the RCAF charged with important responsibilities including leadership protection. The unit, which reports directly to Hun Sen and possesses military equipment including rocket systems and tanks, has long been dogged by allegations of rights violations and shadowy and even illicit activities.