CHINA has pledged over US$100 million to help modernise Cambodia’s military, a move that critics fear could bolster Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ability to counter international pressure amid a nationwide crackdown on dissent ahead of elections.
China’s defence minister Wei Fenghe, who is on a five-day visit to Cambodia, announced the pledge on Tuesday.
According to the Nation, Cambodian defence ministry spokesman General Chhum Socheat said Wei had “promised to support, to train, and to help reform our military to be modernised like others.”
He also said the two countries would hold their third series of joint military exercises known as “Golden Dragon” in 2019.
According to a post on Hun Sen’s Facebook page, Wei’s visit was “to implement any deals signed between the two countries, especially any deals brokered between Hun Sen and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past, and especially to promote and deepen mutual military cooperation.”
China has been a significant source of funds for Cambodia, funnelling millions into the country in recent years. In return, Hun Sen’s administration has given their backing to Chinese positions among the Association of Southeast Asian nations (Asean) and other regional groups.
The provision of aid is in contrast to western governments that are imposing restrictions on Cambodia in response to the widespread crackdown on dissent and political opposition in the lead up to the July 29 general election.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on the commander of Hun Sen’s bodyguards, accusing him of using force to menace opponents for decades. General Hing Bun Hieng is the first member of the leader’s inner circle to be blacklisted by Washington.
The US has also withdrawn financial support for the upcoming election.
The European Union has threatened the country with economic sanctions after the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) said it had won every seat in a Senate election in which many opposition supporters had been stripped of their right to vote.
The support of China and others, including Japan, mean such penalties will have little impact on Hun Sen who has so far shirked all threats to his 33-year rule.