China’s military sends troops to Laos for 2-week joint military drills

Beijing has been seeking closer military cooperation with Southeast Asian countries.
By RFA Lao
2024.07.09
China’s military sends troops to Laos for 2-week joint military drills Chinese soldiers arrive at Phonhong Railway Station in Laos on July 1, 2024.
(Yi Ding/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Chinese troops have arrived in Laos for a two-week exercise with the Lao military on the outskirts of Vientiane, just weeks after a similar training in Cambodia that’s part of a push by Beijing to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries.

Some 300 Chinese troops and about 900 Lao military personnel are participating in the Laos-China Friendship Shield-2024 exercise, which began on July 5, according to Lt. Col. Santi Chanthalangsone, who directs training for Laos’ armed forces.

Most of the Chinese participants and military equipment arrived on the newly constructed Laos-China railway, which was funded mostly through loans from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“Participants will focus on technical cooperation and how to use armed vehicles and weapons,” Santi Chanthalangsone told local media on July 5. 

“The Chinese side might have weapons and experiences that can be shared with us,” he said. “The drill will help strengthen our military ties, organize and modernize our armed forces.”

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Soldiers unload military vehicles at Phonhong Railway Station in Laos’ Vientiane province on July 2, 2024. (Yi Ding/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The exercises at the Kommadam Military Academy will last until July 18, he said.

‘China’s backyard’

The two militaries also held exercises in May 2023, when they trained for a joint attack on transnational armed crime syndicates operating in a mountain jungle environment.

Laos also participated in military exercises in China’s Guangdong province last November that included the militaries from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. 

Laos’ dire economic conditions and its large national debt – most of which is owed to China – means that it realistically can’t hold military exercises with anyone else, according to Prof. Adisorn Semyaem, a researcher on Lao studies at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.

“The drill could affect its ties with Vietnam. It won’t be easy for Laos. Laos and Vietnam share the same border,” he said. “But Laos is also in China’s backyard.”

ENG_LAO_CHINA MILITARY DRILLS_07092024.3.jpg
Soldiers unload military vehicles at Phonhong Railway Station in Laos’ Vientiane province, July 1, 2024. (Yi Ding/Xinhua via Getty Images)

China has been seeking closer military-to-military cooperation with its regional neighbors to respond to what it calls “interference” from the United States and its allies.

The United States conducts annual war games in Indonesia and Thailand, and in April it held a large-scale drill with its mutual defense treaty partner, the Philippines

In May, Chinese troops went to Sihanoukville in Cambodia to take part in the largest ever bilateral military exercise between those two countries.

Chinese warships have also been spotted since December at a new Chinese-built pier at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base. Cambodia has repeatedly denied that China is being given exclusive military access to the base.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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