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China, Cambodia to Kick Off Extensive Military Exercises Next Week

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China, Cambodia to Kick Off Extensive Military Exercises Next Week

The Golden Dragon exercise, which has been held regularly since 2016, encapsulates the increasingly intimate defense ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh.

China, Cambodia to Kick Off Extensive Military Exercises Next Week
Credit: Photo 155527059 | Cambodia China Flag © Ruletkka |

Cambodia will later this month host a major military exercise with China, which will feature extensive land, air, and maritime drills, the latest indication of the strong defense ties between the two nations.

According to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), which cited a Facebook post by the Royal Gendarmerie, the Golden Dragon 2024 exercise will be held on May 16-30, with drills to take place at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces training center in Kampong Chhnang province, and in the waters and air space off Sihanoukville.

The theme of this year’s exercise, previously announced by China’s Defense Ministry, will take place under the theme of “joint counter-terrorism operations and humanitarian relief.”

The expanding Golden Dragon exercise is a manifestation of the intimate economic and strategic relationship between Phnom Penh and Beijing. In a statement on May 6, China’s Defense Ministry said that the exercise “is conducive to further consolidating the iron-clad friendship between the two countries, enhancing the strategic coordination level between the two militaries, and jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability.”

The first Golden Dragon exercise was held in December 2016. This shortly preceded, and was seemingly connected to, the cancelation of a similar military exercise with the United States early the following year. The Angkor Sentinel joint exercise, which had been held annually since 2010, has not been held since, while the Golden Dragon has become an annual occurrence, aside from 2021 and 2022, when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full agenda of this month’s exercise has yet not been released, but according to the Cambodian government, the drills will involve two People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels that have been docked at the Ream Naval Base, around 20 kilometers from Sihanoukville, since December. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Defense Ministry spokesperson Chhum Socheat said that the training will focus on “technical skills in the use of ships and weapons as well as other new technologies.” He also went out of his way to deny that the two Type 056 guided-missile corvettes will be stationed permanently at the Ream Naval Base, which has recently undergone a significant China-funded expansion and refurbishment. The Chinese involvement in the base has raised concerns in the U.S. and elsewhere that the base may soon host a permanent Chinese military presence.

As per RFA, which cited China’s Defense Ministry, the two corvettes will also be joined by the Jinggangshan, a Type 071 amphibious landing ship, and the training ship Qijiguang, which will soon arrive in Cambodia to take part in the exercises. With the four Chinese warships present, the maritime drills this year are expected to be more extensive. The countries’ navies “will train in maritime counter-terrorism operations as well as search-and-rescue at sea,” RFA reported.