The Chinese government officially delivered 257 military vehicles during a handover ceremony at the Ministry of Defense yesterday, completing a deal that followed a US decision to cancel a similar military aid package on humanitarian grounds.
Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong announced the Chinese truck shipment in early May, less than two months after the US suspended plans to deliver 200 military vehicles in response to the government’s deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China in December.
Speaking on the sidelines of an unrelated signing ceremony at the Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday, Mr Namhong welcomed the delivery of the Chinese vehicles and insisted that China’s largesse would not influence Cambodian politics.
“We received aid from China without any conditions. It does not influence anything,” he said.
Offloaded in Preah Sihanouk city on Monday, the Chinese consignment includes 20 military ambulances, 30 jeeps and 207 trucks, some of them capable of transporting tanks.
“The importance of this to the Defense Ministry is to serve the national defense,” Defense Ministry Secretary of State Moeung Samphon said after inspecting the vehicles at Phnom Penh’s military air base ahead of the ceremony.
Mr Samphon said he was not concerned about what the US might think of the deal with China.
“It is their problem if they are sad,” he said. “We are in need, and we were offered, so we have to receive it.”
Defense Minister Tea Banh said by telephone that Cambodia would not turn the US down if offered another consignment, however.
“If they give it to us we will accept it as well,” he said.
The vehicles are part of a $14.7 million military aid package from China that Prime Minister Hun Sen secured during a late June-early May trip to Shanghai, where he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Srey Thamarong, an assistant to Mr Hun Sen, said the premier marveled at the speed of the delivery during a meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh with Chi Wan Chun, political chief of the Chinese Defense Ministry’s equipment department, who accompanied the shipment.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] regards the carrying-out of Hu Jintao’s order to be faster than the rocket shooting into the sky,” Mr Thamarong said.
John Johnson, spokesman for the US Embassy, declined to comment on the trucks yesterday.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)