Government: Military cooperation with the US remains strong

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Soldiers stand at attention in front of tanks mounted with Cambodian flags during the opening ceremonies of this year’s Golden Dragon military exercises with China on Saturday. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia still has military cooperation with the US, despite the former “temporarily postponing” the annual Angkor Sentinel joint exercises last year, Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said.

He told The Post on Thursday that military ties with the US remain strong.

“The Ministry of National Defence retains bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the US. But because some required many members of the forces, we were unable to continue with the exercises,” Socheat said.

The ministry, he said, has no intention to suspend military cooperation with the US indefinitely.

“We had a meeting in the past and decided we would only postpone [military drills] for some time because we were busy with the election. We needed to mobilise our forces for some tasks,” he said.

Socheat stressed that Cambodia still has a wide range of areas where it cooperates with the US, apart from joint exercises.

“We still have some bilateral cooperation at present. While some are postponed, others are still ongoing. Nothing has changed,” he said.

Outgoing US Ambassador to Cambodia William A Heidt on Monday met with the National Defence Ministry Secretary of State, General Neang Phat.

The former raised concerns over a claim that there was a Chinese naval base under construction in Koh Kong province during the meeting. He called on the government to address the issue.

Socheat argued that the claim is intended to create suspicion between the two countries.

“There is nothing to inspect. If we trust each other, they wouldn’t need to inspect the site as it can be viewed from satellites,” he said.

On November 19, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would explain to US Vice President Mike Pence that it was not necessary for Cambodia to violate its constitution as the Kingdom was not at war, and in any case had “enough forces to protect its independence”, and that he rejected “any ideology of competition” that could “split Cambodia”.

In March, Cambodia also “postponed indefinitely” a US Navy Mobile Construction Battalion humanitarian programme in which the “Seabees” work with their Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) counterparts on community service projects across the Kingdom.

According to Fresh News, the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces (RCAF) is currently preparing for next year’s edition of Golden Dragon exercises which will be held in Kampot province in March.

RCAF’s chief of staff General Eth Sarath on Wednesday led a group of soldiers to prepare the ground for the exercise.

Socheat said more pertaining to the exercise would be discussed on Friday at a meeting in his ministry.