China to Help Modernize Military, Defense Minister Says

Chinese aid and expertise—and perhaps some fighter jets—will help modernize Cambodia’s military, Defense Minister Tea Banh said on Monday as navy vessels from China and the U.S. paid courtesy calls to Cambodia’s ports.

Speaking after his return from the 7th Xiangshan Forum, a regional security summit held early last week in Beijing, General Banh said the trip had been a success.

Captain Wang Hong Li, left, commanding officer of the 23rd Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, meets with Defense Minister Tea Banh in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)
Captain Wang Hong Li, left, commanding officer of the 23rd Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, meets with Defense Minister Tea Banh in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

“We signed some agreements with each other to provide supplies in order to modernize our work in the Kingdom of Cambodia and to build stronger capacity for our national defense,” Gen. Banh said on Monday in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia plans on eventually acquiring Chinese fighter jets, the general said, though he declined to provide more specifics on the plans.

The defense minister also took the occasion to welcome Chinese sailors who had arrived in Sihanoukville on three warships on Sunday, saying that their arrival deepened “friendship and cooperation” between the two countries.

Gen. Banh’s comments come on the heels of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit on Thursday during which the Chinese leader pledged some $237 million in aid and an additional $15 million in military support. Mr. Xi also signed a raft of new agreements, including deepening ties on maritime cooperation and intelligence gathering.

Separately, the USS Germantown, an amphibious dock landing ship, arrived in Sihanoukville on Sunday for a scheduled goodwill visit that includes visits by U.S. sailors and Marines to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap’s Angkor Park, as well as a football match between Cambodian and U.S. service members.

“Most Marines never have an opportunity to visit places like Cambodia, and we are all looking forward to getting to see and experience the unique culture of Sihanoukville,” said Lt. Col. Siebrand H. Niewenhous IV, commanding officer of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, in a statement.

The U.S. and China have butted heads over the latter’s maritime claims. But Gen. Banh said on Monday that Cambodia welcomed many visitors. “Everyone is welcome—not just China, but the U.S., France, Australia, Japan and India,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

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