Last week, China and Cambodia kicked off what amounts to the biggest iteration of a bilateral military exercise seen between the two countries yet. The engagement was just another demonstration of the significance of the defense ties between the two sides and Cambodia’s greater drift toward China as the ruling party under Prime Minister Hun Sen looks to further consolidate its power following an election victory.
As I have observed previously in these pages, Cambodia has a long and strong defense relationship with China, with Beijing being the Southeast Asian state’s largest donor of military aid. In providing such aid, China asks few of the questions that some Western countries, including the United States and Australia, have over Cambodia’s worsening rights record. Over the past few years in particular, Cambodia has been expanding ties with China even further in this realm while downgrading military ties with Western states. Cambodia and China have unveiled new exercises and engagements amid scrutiny of some aspects of their relationship, including rumors of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia (See: “What’s in the China-Cambodia Military Base Hype?”).