China to help Cambodia modernize its armed forces

Captain Wang Hong Li (L), Commanding Officer of the 23rd Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, smiles as Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh (R) speaks during a meeting at the Ministry of National Defense of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
By Prak Chan Thul | PHNOM PENH

China has agreed to help modernize Cambodia’s military, Cambodia’s defense minister said on Monday, after the two countries signed new agreements to boost military aid.

Cambodia is China’s loyal ally in Asia, routinely backing Beijing’s position at international forums in a region where China and United States vie for influence.

Cambodia has shielded China from criticism by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the South China Sea. ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are in disputes with China over rival claims to the waters.

“We signed some protocols with each other in providing supplies in order to modernize our work and as a contribution to strengthen stronger capacity of our national defense,” Defence Minister Tea Banh, who returned from an official visit to Beijing over the weekend, told reporters on Monday.

His comments follow a visit to Cambodia by Chinese President Xi Jinping last week in which Xi praised the close ties between the two countries. China and Cambodia signed 31 agreements during the visit, including soft loan deals worth around $237 million.

The Chinese leader also canceled around $89 million in debt and pledged another $14 million in military aid to Cambodia.

Banh said that Cambodia plans to acquire fighter jets from China in the long term but that the military needs to focus now on strengthening its airspace.

Cambodia has had border disputes with neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. A border dispute with Thailand has in recent years resulted in sporadic exchanges of fire.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre)

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