Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

A new military vehicle is taken through its paces during the first Chinese-Cambodian Golden Dragon military exercises in 2016. The Ministry of Defence unveiled details for this month's iteration today.
A new military vehicle is taken through its paces during the first Chinese-Cambodian Golden Dragon military exercises in 2016. The Ministry of Defence unveiled details for this month's iteration today. Heng Chivoan

War games: Ministry says 'please don't be alarmed' as it announces Golden Dragon military exercise with China

The Ministry of Defence on Thursday warned civilians and aircraft to avoid a section of Kampong Speu province from March 15 to March 30 while Cambodia participates in its Golden Dragon military training exercises with China.

The exercises will feature 190 soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and 280 from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, 100 more soldiers on the Chinese side than participated previously.

first Golden Dragon was held in December 2016, with the government cancelling similar annual exercises with the US and Australia around the same time.

At the time, the Cambodian government claimed it was too busy with the upcoming July elections to hold exercises with the US or Australia.

Yesterday, however, an air force spokesman confirmed what was long suspected: the exercises were cancelled because the US and Australia “demand too many conditions”, said spokesman Prak Sokha.

Carl Thayer, an Australian professor and regional expert, said the excuse of being too busy was a “pretence”, though the election cycle may indeed have something to do with the cancellations.

“The last thing the Cambodian government wants is foreign military in the country [during elections],” Thayer explained.

In contrast with the human rights and political conditions set by Western powers, he said, “opportunistic” China has no qualms about the “evisceration of democracy”.

The US, meanwhile, has been openly critical of a widely condemned ongoing government crackdown that saw the forced dissolution of the country’s only viable opposition, as well as the arrest of its leader.

Sokha said three Chinese aircraft had already arrived in Cambodia, and Prime Minister Hun Sen recently bragged that thousands of tonnes of weapons will soon arrive in Cambodia, with defence officials confirming he was referring to equipment for the exercises.

Hem Tha, deputy commander of Brigade 70 – the host of the drills – confirmed that some equipment, including “armoured personnel carriers” would be gifted to Cambodia permanently.

“Please don’t be alarmed,” the announcement states, cautioning that there will be “live round” exercises.

Ear Sophal, author of The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Quest for Resources is Reshaping the World, said that the message is meant for both international and domestic consumption.

“A bigger Golden Dragon with lots of equipment you get to keep is always a veiled message both to those snubbed (the US and Australia) and to your own people: China’s got my back and I’ve got a bunch of new toys,” said Sophal via email.

David Josar, spokesman for the US Embassy, said that even though joint military exercises have been cancelled, the American military continues to focus on “humanitarian assistance”.

“We routinely send military personnel to help train Cambodian soldiers for the important, courageous and dangerous work they do as UN peacekeepers,” he added.

Updated: 7:37am, Friday March 9 2018

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10