300 Chinese troops arrive in Cambodia for joint exercise

Golden Dragon 2024 to be the largest wargame to date between the two countries.
By RFA Staff
2024.05.14
300 Chinese troops arrive in Cambodia for joint exercise The Chinese Navy’s amphibious landing ship Qilianshan arrives at Sihanoukville autonomous port on May 13, 2024.
Facebook/Ream naval base

A Chinese amphibious landing ship carrying 300 troops has arrived in Sihanoukville in Cambodia to take part in the largest bilateral military exercise to date between the two countries.

Photographs published on the Facebook page of the Ream naval base show the welcome ceremony for the Type 071 ship Qilianshan (Hull 985) at Sihanoukville autonomous port. Last week, China Military Online said the Qilianshan left Zhanjiang port in Guangdong for Cambodia with more than 300 Chinese troops from the army, navy, air force and joint logistic support force on board.

The 6th Golden Dragon exercise is set to begin on May 16, marking a new step in the deepening military cooperation between Cambodia and China. It will last for 15 days at two main locations in Kampong Chhnang and Sihanoukville provinces.

Major Gen. Thong Solimo, spokesman for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, told a press conference in Phnom Penh on Monday that with more than 1,300 Cambodian troops, more than 700 Chinese troops, three large Chinese warships and 11 Cambodian warships, the Golden Dragon exercise this year “will be even larger than before.”

It is not clear how the other 400 Chinese troops will get to the exercise. 

qilianshan 2.jpeg
An armored vehicle being loaded onto the landing ship Qilianshan before it departs for Cambodia, May 9, 2024. (CCTV)

The Qilianshan, a 25,000-ton helicopter landing dock, appears to have replaced the Jinggangshan, which took part in last year’s Golden Dragon and was mentioned in an earlier Chinese defense ministry announcement about the exercise.

Besides the Qilianshan, two Chinese navy corvettes, which have been at Ream naval base since December, are expected to take part in the joint drills. The semi-permanent presence of the ships led to assertions that the Chinese navy had been using facilities at Ream as a military base. Cambodia has rejected that suggestion.

‘Not harming any countries’

Cambodia and China have been holding the annual exercise since 2016 but it was canceled in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cambodia held its last joint military drills with the United States in 2016. The annual Angkor Sentinel began in 2010 but Cambodia called it off in 2017, citing domestic reasons, and it has not been held since. The suspension of the exercise with U.S. forces comes as Cambodia builds closer ties with China.

In 2021, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Cambodia over concerns about growing Chinese military influence.

Thong Solimo was quoted in Cambodian media as saying on Monday that the joint exercise with China this year is aimed at enhancing the military’s capabilities as well as its combat skills and “does not threaten or harm any countries.”

Edited by Mike Firn,.

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