Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian arrived in Cambodia Tuesday for a five-day visit that began with China offering more military aid than expected.
Marking the first visit of a Chinese defense minister to Cambodia, Chi unveiled an aid package of almost $2.5 million— $828,000 more than expected by Cambodia’s military leadership.
Lay Bun Song, chief of foreign affairs at the Defense Ministry, said officials were expecting about $1.75 million, which was pledged during Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit in November.
The increased aid was not disclosed until a signing ceremony at the Defense Ministry Tuesday afternoon, Lay Bun Song said.
“This figure is quite a surprise,” said Prince Sisowath Sirirath, co-minister of defense.
Prince Sirirath said the Ministry of Defense and the Chinese military attache will now discuss how the funds will be allocated.
According to Lay Bun Song, the initial aid pledged by Jiang was earmarked for refurbishing the dilapidated Preah Ket Melea military hospital in Phnom Penh and construction of a military training facility in Kompong Speu province.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said the increased aid was a welcome gesture in support of the RCAF.
“We very much [welcome] this aid provided by China when our country is meeting these difficult times,” Tea Banh said.
Chi arrived in Cambodia from Vietnam, the first stop in his four-nation regional visit that also includes Laos and Nepal. He was greeted by RCAF officials in an unusually low-key welcoming ceremony. Neither Tea Banh nor Prince Sirirath were at the airport to greet Chi.
Rumored demonstrations by Cambodian students to protest the defense minister’s arrival did not materialize. But more than 100 pro-government students gathered outside the Royal University and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences on Pochentong Boulevard, ready to confront any protesters.
Mao Yi, 28, leader of the Pagoda Children, Students and Intellectuals Associations, said nearly 300 counter-demonstrators had assembled at the schools to ensure no anti-Chinese protest took place.
“It is our citizens’ right to protect the security of the nation,” Mao Yi said.
On Monday, eight members of the Democratic Front of Khmer Students and Intellectuals tried to deliver a letter of protest to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh ahead of Chi’s visit.
Embassy officials refused to accept the letter, which demands an apology from China for supporting the Khmer Rouge and seeks compensation for victims of the regime.
Western and Asian diplomats in Phnom Penh have labeled the high-level military visit as a routine follow-up call to Jiang’s visit.
Some diplomats said they will watch closely the outcome of this visit in terms of the scope and type of military aid China offers.
Chi is scheduled to meet today with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.