Cambodia and China are set to hold the "Golden Dragon 2024" joint military exercises from next week.

Analysts have noted the positive benefits of the Kingdom engaging in such drills with foreign nations, calling for more defence cooperation, albeit as long as Cambodia’s sovereignty and independence are protected.

The theme for this year’s training is “Joint counter-terrorism operations and humanitarian relief”.

“This is the sixth China-Cambodia "Golden Dragon" joint military exercise. It is conducive to further consolidating the iron-clad friendship between the two countries, enhancing strategic coordination between the two militaries and jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability,” said the Chinese defence ministry, in a May 6 statement.

This year’s exercise will take place in two locations; in Preah Sihanouk province and Kampong Chhnang province’s Chum Rikreay military training centre. Preparations at the two locations have been underway for several weeks.

Local media outlets reported that the drills are scheduled to run from May 16-30.

Last year, the exercises were conducted from March 20 to April 8. The first “Golden Dragon” operations took place in 2016, and have been an annual fixture ever since, barring Covid-19 related cancellations.

A US-Cambodia joint military exercise called “Angkor Sentinel” has been postponed since 2017. The US recently expressed its willingness to resume military cooperation with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) on unexploded ordinance abatement and humanitarian demining, as well as enhanced Cambodian participation in other events and training courses. No progress has been reported lately.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, believed the Golden Dragon exercises demonstrate the comprehensive military cooperation between Cambodia and China. 

He noted that they are also an opportunity for the Kingdom’s armed forces to strengthen their capacity, especially when it comes to humanitarian operations and disaster relief, as well as to receive more military aid.

“Military exercises work two ways, as they require the agreement and commitment of both sides. I believe Cambodia should beef up joint military drills with other countries, especially the superpowers, if there is an opportunity,” said Phea.

“Naturally, all military cooperation must respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. They must not result in the Kingdom serving the geopolitical agenda of any superpower,” he added.

He explained that Cambodia should only accept defence assistance which is intended to upgrade their military capability and refuse any form of cooperation that supported a foreign agenda.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, agreed that joint military exercises with countries with advanced defence capabilities will help to upgrade Cambodia’s military capacity. In addition to China, he suggested that Cambodia also conduct drills with countries in Europe, the US or Australia, among others. 

“Through such exercises, we can learn from their experience and they also can learn from us,” he said.