Local political observers see the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation between the Cambodian and South Korean armed forces as strengthening and enhancing regional security cooperation and mutual protection, against a backdrop of geopolitical competition between superpowers.

Lieutenant General Hun Manet – Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and commander of the Royal Cambodian Army – and Park Jeong-hwan, Chief of Staff of the South Korean Army, signed the MoU last week.

It is hoped that the agreement will promote close and lasting ties between the two sides based on mutual trust in the cause of peace and humanity.

Thong Mengdavid, a security expert and currently a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, sees the signing as a positive sign for strengthening and expanding the military capabilities of the two countries, both bilaterally and in regional military cooperation.

“South Korea has always been a friend and important development partner of Cambodia,” he said.

“Building its military capacity through modernisation, the establishment of military industry, the construction of military infrastructure and increased cooperation with other foreign partners is one of the Kingdom’s main defence strategies,” he added.

He emphasised the changing role of Cambodia in the field of international security, saying it had become a steadfast source of UN peacekeeping troops, having sent well-trained troops to participate in maintaining regional and global security.

During the signing ceremony, the two army commanders recalled the establishment of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and South Korea in 1970. They also applauded the development of friendly relations and cooperation in all fields between the two nations, especially in the last 25 years since the re-establishment of diplomacy in 1997 under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia and an expert on geopolitics, said the signing will help strengthen regional security, as South Korea is nearer to US Indo-Pacific policy than to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework.

“The signing of the MoU will help support South Korea and Cambodia in training human resources and protecting each other through military exercises and humanitarian frameworks,” he added.

He believed that the relationship between the two nations is evolving closer, and has the potential to be a full-fledged relationship in the future. This, he said, is not just true in the sense of a bilateral framework but also within multilateral and regional frameworks. South Korea is also an ASEAN dialogue partner, which offers additional economic, political and trade benefits, he added.

Peou lauded the progress of Cambodia’s diplomatic security policies, which are striving to expand both bilaterally, regionally and globally.

The defence ministries of Cambodia and South Korea also signed a defence MoU in 2018, which formed the base for closer ties, including exchange visits, the training of human resources and the provision of military equipment.