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China-Cambodia joint military exercise to kick off on May 16

two visiting Chinese warships docked at the Ream Naval Base near Cambodia’s port city of Sihanoukville. (Cambodia’s Defence Minister Tea Seiha/Facebook)
May 11, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A major military exercise between China and Cambodia, the Golden Dragon 2024, is going to take place on May 16-30, a Cambodian official source said.

The Royal Gendarmerie – a branch of Cambodia’s armed forces – said on its Facebook page that the drills will be held under the theme “Counter-terrorism Operations and Humanitarian Relief” at two main locations in Kampong Chhnang and Sihanoukville provinces.

General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, also told a press conference in Phnom Penh that the exercise will begin on May 16.

This is the sixth Golden Dragon joint exercise between the two militaries since 2016. It was canceled in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chhum Sucheat was quoted in Cambodian media as saying that the two Chinese vessels, which have been docking in Cambodia’s Ream naval base since last December, are there to help train the Cambodian navy and prepare for the joint exercise.

The military spokesman rejected allegations that the Chinese navy had been using facilities at Ream as a military base.

The prolonged training focuses on “technical skills in the use of ships and weapons as well as other new technologies,” according to Chhum Sucheat, who added that the Chinese side was also testing the quality of the upgraded Ream naval base which China helped develop.

Cambodia is planning to purchase similar warships to those docked at the base, the general said.

Naval drills

The two Chinese warships at Ream are believed to be China-built Type 056 guide-missile corvettes. The 1,500-ton vessels are fitted with anti-ship missiles as well as torpedoes and can carry a helicopter. 

Besides the two corvettes, the Chinese navy has also dispatched two more warships to Cambodia for training exercises with the Cambodian navy.

Beijing’s Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday that training ship Qijiguang and landing ship Jinggangshan are on their way to train together with Cambodian naval personnel in May.

The Jinggangshan, a Type 071 amphibious landing ship that can carry up to 800 troops, also took part in the Golden Dragon 2023 and conducted an unprecedented maritime exercise with the Cambodian navy in the waters off Sihanoukville.

With the four Chinese warships present, the maritime drills this year are expected to be more extensive. Staff from the two navies will train in maritime counter-terrorism operations as well as search-and-rescue at sea. 

Military ties between China and Cambodia have deepened in recent years, with Beijing providing aid, equipment and training to Cambodian forces. In 2021, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Cambodia over concerns about “deepening Chinese military influence”.