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China sends warships for massive drill with Cambodia

May 19, 2024

China and Cambodia will deploy their ships near the Gulf of Thailand for the naval section of their biggest ever "Golden Dragon" military drills.

Chinese naval personnel line up in front of their warship dock at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia
The warships will take part in joint naval drill between China and CambodiaImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

Two Chinesewarships docked at a commercial port in Cambodia  on Sunday as the two countries stage joint military drills.

The two warships — Jingangshan amphibious warfare ship and Qijiguang training ship — arrived at Cambodia's Sihanoukville port. The commercial port is north of the Ream naval base, where two other Chinese corvettes have been docked for the last five months.

On Thursday, China and Cambodia initiated a 15-day-long military drill involving 760 Chinese military personnel along with around 1,300 Cambodians and 11 Cambodian vessels. The naval portion of the exercises is set be held near the Gulf of Thailand next week.

The annual maneuvers, known as Golden Dragon exercises, were first held in December 2016. This year's event is the second after a three-year hiatus over the COVID-19 pandemic, and the largest to date.

All eyes on Ream Naval Base

Cambodia is one of China's strongest allies.

The port where the joint training is set to take place lies north of the Ream Naval Base which is being expanded using funds from China.

The United States and other countries are concerned with China's growing influence in the region fear that Cambodia's Ream could become China's new stronghold in the Gulf of Thailand.

The Gulf lies close to the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety. Controlling the Gulf of Thailand would also allow China to gain easy access to the Malacca Strait which is an important shipping lane.

Dismissing the concerns about Ream, Wang Wentian, China's ambassador to Cambodia hailed its "ironclad" friendship with Cambodia and said that wherever the Chinese navy sails "we bring friendship, we bring cooperation" and nothing else.

The Ream Naval Base became controversial in 2019 when a report by The Wall Street Journal said that US officials have seen an agreement that would allow China to use the Cambodian base for 30 years for military purposes.

However, Cambodia's then-Prime Minister Hun Sen refuted the claim saying that Cambodia's constitution does not allow foreign military bases to be established in its territory.

China's power of investment

mfi/dj (AFP, AP)