Foreign diplomats in Phnom Penh say they will adopt a wait-and-see approach regarding Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian’s five-day visit to Cambodia, which is expected to be dominated by discussions on increased military aid to the Cambodian army.
Western and Asian diplomats, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said that although the visit simply reflects the strength of growing Sino-Cambodian relations, the character of military pledges made in the coming week will be closely monitored.
While the visit is the private affair of both countries, agreements on military aid should be made public to donor countries, one Asian diplomat said.
“The important thing for us is that the Chinese are transparent in their military endeavors,” he said. “We hope that the Chinese and Cambodians will explain in detail the nature of any military aid.”
Cambodian Ministry of Defense officials said Friday they will ask China for military training and new infrastructure, but not weaponry.
A second Asian diplomat said the minister’s visit was the culmination of a number of lower-level military visits in the past year. The visit is important regionally as a measure of China’s interest in increased military cooperation with Cambodia.
A second Western diplomat said the training of Cambodian soldiers and the upgrading of military facilities by China would be a welcome development. Fears of increased Chinese military involvement in Cambodia would be more of an issue for neighboring countries, he added.
During the five-day visit Chi Haotian will sign agreements with RCAF officials and meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
On Thursday he will travel to Siem Reap and tour the Angkor Wat complex. On Friday he will meet with King Norodom Sihanouk, the last official appointment before his departure for Laos on Saturday.
The visit has already met with opposition. Eight members of the Democratic Front of Khmer Students and Intellectual attempted to deliver a letter of protest to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh Monday. Embassy officials refused to accept the letter addressed to Jiang Zemin, which claims the Chinese government supported the Khmer Rouge and is partially responsible for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime.
The letter also demands a public apology from China and compensation of $100,000 for each Cambodian person affected by the Khmer Rouge regime.
Chi Haotian’s visit to Phnom Penh is part of a regional tour that includes Vietnam, Laos and Nepal.
It remains to be seen what will be the make-up and scope of the military agreements signed during the visit.
“We are not reading a whole lot into the visit,” said a western diplomat, adding that it is highly unlikely discussions will generate major changes in military relations between Cambodia and China.