11 June 2024

China leg up on US for Cambodia’s military loyalty


The US and China are taking turns wooing Cambodia’s West Point-educated prime minister with guns, money and friendship but the Chinese are scoring most of the rewards.

Just as Beijing’s biggest military exercise in Cambodia was ending, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Phnom Penh to offer military assistance and mend the often rough diplomatic relations between the two former wartime enemies.

Austin met Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet and Defense Minister Tea Seiha during his one-day stop on June 4, after attending a Singapore defense forum where he met his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun.

Coincidentally, Hun Manet was the US Military Academy at West Point’s first Cambodian cadet in 1999, 24 years after Austin graduated from there in 1975.

That may have smoothed the way for their talks which likely included Beijing’s military advances in Cambodia amid the smoldering rivalry along the Gulf of Thailand, which is used by China’s Navy and the US 7th Fleet’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

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