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FOCUS: Cambodia, China continue to broaden their military relations.

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 28 Kyodo

Cambodia and China are deepening their relations not only in the diplomatic, economic and investment areas but now, also, to their militaries.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, almost the sole decision-maker for Cambodia's domestic and foreign affairs, often praises China for providing unconditional aid whenever his country requests it.

The Chinese government has provided Cambodia with huge soft loans even as Chinese companies are moving into Cambodia's mining, agro-industry, hydropower and infrastructure businesses.

Statistics of the Council for Development of Cambodia show that in 2010, Chinese investments in Cambodia reached $694 million, $1.19 billion in 2011 and in just the first part of 2012 $1.41 billion.

The statistics also show grants and loans provided to Cambodia by China from 1992 to June 2012 reached $2.6 billion.

And in recent years China has stepped up support and presence in Cambodia not only through diplomatic ties and investment, but also in military cooperation Cambodia has sought to increase its ability to prevent Thailand from encroaching on what Cambodia sees at its territory.

In 2010, for example, China donated Cambodia 257 military jeeps and trucks just two months after the United States decided against a similar donation.

A year later, Cambodia approached China for more concessional loans for military equipment and obtained an agreement worth $195 million, a portion of which was used to buy 12 Chinese Zhi-9 helicopters that are to arrive in Cambodia later this year.

Defense Minister Tea Banh told reporters, "So far we haven't had the air equipment for emergency rescue and long-distance operations. These 'choppers' will be used for both civilian and military purposes."

Also last year, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie signed an agreement with his Cambodian counterpart for a $19 million military assistance grant that was provided just one day before a regional meeting of defense ministers in Cambodia.

And last week, Hun Sen and Ghi Jang Ou, deputy chief of staff of China's People's Liberation Army, opened a four-story building and other military facilities as well as giving certificates to 1,000 infantry troops.

All the largesse came from China as military assistance.

At the event, Hun Sen expressed "profound appreciation" from the government and army to China and the PLA for "having supported the reform, rehabilitation and strengthening of the Royal Armed Forces of Cambodia so far."

He added China has provided assistance at the Infantry Institute since 2002 for the building of accommodation, offices, a school, a library, a sports center, roads, drainage, electrical and water systems, training fields, a shooting range and equipping school buildings with modern facilities.

It also provided services to modernize the training of the Cambodian armed forces.

As to why China seems so keen to lay down interests in Cambodia, political analyst Lao Mong Hay, said, "A noticeable aspect, a strategic one, is the speed and intensity with which China has consolidated these ties when tension in the South China Sea loomed and Cambodia was to chair (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations)."

"With its control over a sizable sector of the Cambodian economy, China does not mind any internal and foreign policy Cambodia pursues so long it is not hostile to China. And China knows very well, from its very long experience with Cambodia, that the latter will not bite the Chinese hand that feeds it," he said.

Chheang Vannarith, director of the Cambodian Institute for Peace and Cooperation, said both Cambodia and China have gained from their bilateral relationship.

"For China, to realize its global power projection, it needs first to have a strong and reliable regional sphere or space of influence or leverage," he said. "In other words, the Chinese role in the region needs to be strengthened first."

The Southeast Asian region is China's strategic backyard while the South and East China seas are the doors to realize its marine economy and maritime power," he added.

For Cambodia, Chheang Vannarith said it can maintain growth with increasing investment or capital from China, tourism and expansion of its markets to China.

"Cambodia can also get strategic and political attention and bargaining power with other countries," he added.

But both Lao Mong Hay and Chheang Vannarith warned that by being so close to China, Cambodia could lose trust and credibility with other countries in the region whose sovereignty or other concerns compete with China.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Jan 28, 2013
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