PHNOM PENH – Cambodia is holding its biggest-ever joint naval training exercise with China this week, a senior Cambodian officer said Tuesday.
Deputy navy chief Vice Adm. Vann Bunneang said 70 Cambodian sailors will join 737 Chinese counterparts on three Chinese warships that have already docked at Cambodia’s Sihanoukville port.
He said the exercises on Wednesday and Thursday will cover rescue activities and emergencies at sea.
China is eager to project its influence in Southeast Asia as it presses its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea. Cambodia, which has close economic and political ties with Beijing, has offered little support for rival claims made by its neighbors.
The Chinese naval visit follows by just a few days a goodwill visit by three ships from Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. Japan has maritime disputes of its own with China, with which it competes for influence throughout Asia.
“The arrival of the Chinese warships and the Japanese vessels was a matter of pride for Cambodia, and shows that our country has peaceful and good relations and cooperation with all countries,” Vann Bunneang said.
When asked whether China was making a show of strength to project its influence, he said it was not strange for powerful countries to show off their modern military equipment.
“It is like a clothing company: After they make a new product, they often advertise. So the presence of Chinese warships in Cambodia or other places is because China is a big country and wants to show off to the world their modern technology,” he said.