Cambodia’s modest navy is apparently a point of sensitivity for its commander, who on Wednesday said he would seek to acquire two warships from China to prevent neighboring countries from “looking down” on his fleet.
Two guided-missile frigates and a supply ship from China’s South Sea Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Yu Manjiang arrived in Sihanoukville on Monday for a weeklong visit and two days of search-and-rescue training with Cambodian sailors in the Gulf of Thailand.
On Wednesday, Rear Adm. Yu and a delegation of Chinese naval officers traveled to Phnom Penh for a meeting with Royal Cambodian Navy Commander Tea Vinh at the Navy Headquarters.
During the meeting, Admiral Vinh said Cambodia was in the market for two warships and hoped China would supply them.
“The Chinese Ministry of Defense would supply two warships in the future…. This is my vision,” he said, noting the size and firepower of the Chinese ships docked in Sihanoukville.
Adm. Vinh did not say what kind of ships the navy was interested in acquiring, nor whether it intended to purchase them outright. He said the vessels would bolster both maritime security and Cambodia’s reputation.
“We want to stop our neighboring countries from looking down on us,” he said. “I want these two big ships, not for making war, but just to show that they can’t look down on Cambodia.”
For his part, Rear Adm. Yu applauded the upkeep of Cambodia’s existing fleet at the Ream Naval Base, which he toured on Monday.
“Currently, Cambodia has small ships, but it has shown that it can use them and maintain them well,” he said through a translator.
Rear Adm. Yu also predicted an increase in shipping traffic off the coast of Cambodia if Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan for a Maritime Silk Road comes to fruition.
“China has a lot of [cargo] ships that will need to cross through and they will partly need the Cambodian navy to protect them,” he said.
The Chinese commander did not respond to Adm. Vinh’s request for new warships during the meeting.
Phoak Kung, president of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia’s navy was underfunded compared to the army and air force, and that Adm. Vinh’s plan to acquire the vessels from China was not surprising, given recent purchases from the Asian superpower by Thailand and Indonesia.
“China offers a much better deal for military hardware than Europe or the U.S. given its local distribution networks,” he said. “It is much more cost effective for countries in the region.”
Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy, said in an email China donated 15 patrol boats to the Interior Ministry between 2005 and 2007.
He said the sale or donation of further vessels would at least in part be “a conduit for Chinese influence on Cambodia.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the meeting between the two navy commanders was held behind closed doors. It also incorrectly identified Rear Admiral Yu Manjiang and Admiral Tea Vinh as generals.
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