Cambodia, China ‘rescue hostages’ at the end of joint naval drills

14 warships including 3 from China took part in the naval stage of annual Golden Dragon exercise.
By RFA Staff
Cambodia, China ‘rescue hostages’ at the end of joint naval drills Cambodian and Chinese naval ships join exercises in the Gulf of Thailand, May 27, 2024.
Cambodia Ministry of National Defense

The Cambodian and Chinese navies have wrapped up their largest joint drills to date in the Gulf of Thailand which included a mock hostage rescue, Cambodia’s defense ministry said. 

This is the first time the two militaries held naval drills on the high seas as part of the annual Golden Dragon exercise, the ministry said in a statement.

Fourteen vessels, including three from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took part in the exercise. The Chinese ships were the landing dock Qilianshan (Hull 985) and two corvettes – Bazhong (625) and Wenshan (623) – which have been in Cambodia since December, 2023.

During the naval section of Golden Dragon 2024, Chinese and Cambodian ships conducted a formation movement training session and sessions on ship communication, damage control and battlefield medical care. 

For the first time, they also practiced an operation to “rescue hostages from a cargo ship kidnapped by a terrorist group” in the waters around Koh Tang and Koh Rong Sanloem, islands in Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk province.

The Chinese defense ministry said the joint exercise helped hone the troops' military skills and enhanced their coordination and cooperation.

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Cambodian and Chinese naval ships take part in Golden Dragon drills in the Gulf of Thailand, May 27, 2024. (Cambodia Ministry of National Defense)

The land section of the exercise continues in the province of Kampong Chhnang until May 30. 

This year is the sixth iteration of the Golden Dragon joint exercise between China and Cambodia and is also the largest with more than 1,300 Cambodian troops and more than 700 Chinese personnel.

The two countries have been holding the annual exercise since 2016, the same year Cambodia held its last joint military drills with the United States. 

The annual U.S.-Cambodia drills Angkor Sentinel began in 2010 but Cambodia called them off in 2017, citing domestic reasons, and they have not been held since. The suspension of exercises with U.S. forces came as Cambodia built closer ties with China.

‘Inseparable relationship’

Cambodia's Senate President Hun Sen on Monday, describing relations with China, said the two countries were “inseparable.”

The former prime minister, who has retained much political power, said during a meeting with outgoing Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian that bilateral relations had grown to an “inseparable level with mutual trust,” according to a release from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Hun Sen reassured the ambassador that even though he was no longer prime minister, his son had succeeded him and Cambodia’s stance on relations with China will not change. Hun Manet took over as prime minister in 2023.  

“China’s assistance to Cambodia not only helps socio-economic development but also strengthens Cambodia’s political independence,” the Senate president said.

For his part, ambassador Wang was quoted as saying that China and Cambodia were “old and ironclad friends.”

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok Chenda Sophea has just visited Beijing where he met Chinese Vice President Han Zheng.

China is Cambodia’s biggest source of investment and is involved in numerous development projects, including the planned Funan Techo canal that connects Phnom Penh with the Gulf of Thailand.

The project is expected to be launched later this year and will cost an estimated US$1.7 billion.

Edited by Mike Firn.


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