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Uniforms And Trucks From China Improve Ties With Cambodia

June 20, 2011

Cambodia Soldier 02

In what has been described by a Chinese military attaché as a goodwill gesture, 257 trucks and 50,000 uniforms were given to the Royal Cambodian Army (RCA) to strengthen bilateral ties and combat effectiveness. The deal was announced last May and deliveries were finished by June 18, 2010.

China and Cambodia have a complicated history that can be traced back to the Khmer Rouge era; the genocidal Maoist group was equipped with Chinese arms.

The large endowment of trucks, which remain the backbone of any modern army, is a surprise gesture from China. The US was supposed to be responsible for boosting the RCA’s transport and logistics but held back over a diplomatic furor involving Uighur exiles. The improvement of military ties between the neighbors  comes in the wake of a generous $1.2 billion loan to Cambodia welcomed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

By losing its US trucks, China stepped in to fill the void. The geopolitical angle cannot be missed, since Cambodia’s long-running border dispute with Thailand remains unresolved. No doubt Thailand sees the transaction as a power play even if it too is a customer for Chinese arms.

Trucks and apparel aren’t the only “gifts” to the Cambodian Army. Seen in the pictures above are Cambodian troops and special police equipped with Chinese-made small arms, including the 5.8x42mm QBZ-95 (note the shortened commando version beside it), the Type 56 AK-47 variant, and a man-portable Type 85 12.7mm machinegun.

Update (2015): Five years later and the Cambodian military has taken on more Chinese characteristics.

Its military personnel are now training in China as part of a 2012 agreement worth $12 million. The program is an alliance-boosting measure for Beijing, who even offered to build another training facility in Cambodia as part of the same deal.

In November 2013 a dozen Z-9 multirole helicopters were delivered to the Royal Cambodian Air Force (RCAF). The Z-9 is a copy of the European Airbus EC365 Dauphin, a French model.

Unfortunately, in July the following year one of these helicopters crashed into a ditch outside Phnom Penh while being flown by a cadet. The four casualties included a Brigadier General and three Majors.

Other branches of the Royal Armed Forces are using PLA gear too. But with poor transparency on Chinese arms exports, it’s difficult to ascertain when Cambodia makes its purchases.

It is apparent, however, that the RCA already possesses a limited number of FN-6 MANPADS and even the PF-89 anti-tank rocket launcher.

During the previous decade, the Royal Cambodian Navy enlarged its decrepit fleet with at least nine Chinese-made patrol craft.

Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Cambodia doesn’t hesitate to look elsewhere for affordable and very effective weapons. During the 1990s, for example, the military turned to Eastern Europe and Israel to maintain its Eastern Bloc-vintage arsenal.

Eastern Europe became the exporter of choice again between 2010 and 2012, when an unspecified arms deal boosted the RCA’s armored forces. It was on October 21 2012 when a shipment of 100 tanks and 40 “wheeled vehicles” reached Cambodia.

The tank model has never been revealed, although it’s likely the RCA got itself more T-55’s. The “wheeled vehicles” are probably BRDM-1’s.

It was also in late 2013 when the army showcased its Czech-made MLRS, the RM-70, during a live fire exercise. The exact number of RM-70’s purchased by Cambodia–and the date when–is unknown.

Phnom Penh has no qualms with help from the US either and from April 21 to 30 2014 its troops cross-trained with US advisers for the Angkor Sentinel exercises.

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