Joint naval drills to begin

Friendly visit: Chinese naval personnel lining up near the ‘Jinggangshan’ docked during a welcome ceremony at the Sihanoukville port in Preah Sihanouk province. — AFP

Two Chinese warships docked at a commercial port in Cambodia, in preparation for joint naval exercises between the two countries.

The Jingangshan amphibious warfare ship and Qijiguang training ship sailed in to the Sihanoukville Port yesterday as onlookers waved Cambodian and Chinese flags from the piers.

The Qijiguang bore a banner reading “Bring peace and friendship to meet good friends” as it approached the port.

The port is north of the Ream Naval Base, where China has funded a broad expansion project that has been carefully watched by the United States and others over concerns it could become a new outpost for the Chinese navy on the Gulf of Thailand.

The Gulf is adjacent to the South China Sea, and would give easy access to the Malacca Strait, one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

Wang Wentian, China’s ambassador to Cambodia, dismissed concerns about Ream, telling reporters at Sihanoukville that wherever the Chinese navy sails “we bring friendship, we bring cooperation” and nothing else.

“The cooperation between the two armies, between China and Cambodia, is conducive to the security of both countries and the security of the region,” he said, standing on the pier.

Firepower: A Chinese army personnel (right) testing a machine gun equipped on a robodog before participating in the Golden Dragon military exercise in Svay Chok village, Kampong Chhnang province. — APFirepower: A Chinese army personnel (right) testing a machine gun equipped on a robodog before participating in the Golden Dragon military exercise in Svay Chok village, Kampong Chhnang province. — AP

The Jingangshan and the Qijiguang are due to take part in naval exercises from the Ream base from May 24-27, along with two Chinese corvettes that have been docked at Ream’s new pier for more than five months.

The joint training is the naval component of the ongoing Golden Dragon exercises, which are regularly held between the two countries.

As the Golden Dragon exercises opened on May 16, Cambodian army Commander in Chief Gen Vong Pisen thanked China for providing new equipment and helping to upgrade military facilities, including the Ream Naval Base.

At the same time, he underscored Cambodia’s official position, saying the country would “not allow any foreign military base on our territory.”

At the start of the drills, China’s military showed off its hardware including so-called “robodogs” – remote-controlled four-legged robots with automatic rifles mounted on their backs.

Handlers kept the dogs of war on the leash, demonstrating only their walking capabilities to watching journalists and top brass – not their shooting skills. — AP/AFP

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