Last month, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam carried out the first-ever iteration of a joint rescue drill between them, an exercise that was years in the works. Though the interaction was just one of many developments within the ties between these three mainland Southeast Asian countries, it nonetheless spotlighted ongoing efforts by the three countries to boost trilateral defense cooperation between them, in spite of lingering bilateral challenges and an increasingly complex and contested regional and global environment.
Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, three mainland Southeast Asian countries with a complex history and some unresolved border management issues between them, have nonetheless been working through ways to manage shared opportunities and challenges through a range of cooperative mechanisms. While this had initially been shaped through economics-focused mechanisms such as the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) development triangle area, there have also been efforts to build out security cooperation across their militaries as well as other actors including legislatures.
This is occurring amid other evolving dynamics, including China’s increasing defense links with Cambodia, as evidenced by its presence at the country’s Ream Naval Base, and Vietnam’s own efforts to boost security ties with Cambodia and Laos. It is also a case in point regarding how, amid the focus on minilateral mechanisms like the Quad or AUKUS, Southeast Asian states themselves have also tried to develop various security configurations of their own in order to advance their own interests.