The final two weeks of February will feature visits to Sihanoukville from both the Japanese and Chinese navies to conduct goodwill and training exercises, as the two powers vie for influence and allies in Southeast Asia amid increasing Asian nautical tensions.
The Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh announced on Wednesday that three vessels from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force would visit Cambodia from February 17 to 20 to “strengthen friendship between Japan and Cambodia through various exchange programs.”
Meas Thang, spokesman for the Cambodian navy, said the Japanese visit would focus on providing medical care and building houses in seaside communities alongside Cambodian navy personnel.
He said a Chinese navy delegation would visit Cambodia shortly afterward, marking the first such visit.
“After we finish with Japan, the Chinese navy will visit us for training on how to rescue people from natural disasters at sea,” he said. “This training will come at the end of this month and will involve many Chinese experts.”
Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defense Forces Academy, said that in light of tensions between Japan and China over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea, in addition to ongoing maritime disputes between China and several Southeast Asian nations, it was natural to see both countries seek to “woo” Cambodia.
He said the first step in any naval relationship was simple non-combat training exercises such as those planned for this month, which provide a framework for more complex joint naval exercises in the future.
“It’s a standard part of engagement, a courtship,” Mr. Thayer explained. “You start with a walk on the beach, holding hands.”
In addition to the two East Asian powers, the Indian navy conducted search and rescue training exercises here in June, and the U.S. conducted its sixth joint naval exercises with Cambodia in November
“We are seeing an increase in major power rivalry in the region,” Mr. Thayer said.