Golden Dragon ends after live fire

China and Cambodia yesterday ended their largest-ever joint military exercise “Golden Dragon 2019” held in Kampot province’s Chum Kiri district after more than 10 days of live fire.

Commanders from both countries made a commitment to resist any threat from outsiders. The exercises began on March 13 with a closing ceremony planned for tomorrow, but the date was changed to yesterday.

Defence Minister General Tea Banh and Major General Zhang Haiqing, southern deputy commander of China’s infantry, arrived in the morning to inspect armour and other military equipment after the live-fire drills.

Speaking during a joint press conference after the closing ceremony, Gen Banh said all costs of the drill would be the responsibility of his Chinese counterpart, including petrol and ammunition. He said the exercises were a success because of the Chinese support.

Maj Gen Zhang said the exercises were to strengthen the good cooperation between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

“If we compare it with the 2016 and 2018 drills, the military exercise this time was like preparation for fighting,” he said. “The most important purpose of this drill is to strengthen the ties between both militarizes. We will maintain the historic relationship between both the army and the country to be stronger.”

He said China and Cambodia would join together against what he called “historic threats” and hoped next year’s exercise would be bigger and better.

“Another purpose is we want to participate in maintaining peace and stability in the region. We promoted the ability of both militaries to resist historic or non-historic threats against us,” he said. “We strongly believe that the next Golden Dragon military exercise will be the best ever.”

Asked if Cambodia would join military exercises with countries besides China, Gen Banh said Cambodia would welcome any countries but he demanded loyalty first.

In 2017, a joint military exercise with the US, known as “Angkor Sentinel exercise” was cancelled, and the Defence Ministry said it was called off because the government was busy focusing on a six-month anti-drug campaign and 2017’s commune election.

“We will consider based on their will and loyalty first. What is their real purpose? Is it responding to our need? If they respond to our need, we will welcome them, we will consider it based on the actual situation.” Gen Banh said.

Gen Banh denied that Cambodia and China would threaten any country.

“I find it hard to describe anyone who smears our actions to promote our army as a threat,” he said. “We do not want to threaten any group or country. We just want to strengthen our ability, for those who have concerns about our joint military exercise.”

Maj Gen Zhang echoed Gen Banh, but said China and Cambodia had enough power to confront any country that threatened them.

The “Golden Dragon” drill is a representation of current Sino-Cambodian relations. This year’s drill was the third after 2016 and 2018.

During the exercise, 252 Chinese soldiers trained side-by-side with 2,542 Cambodian soldiers. The exercise focused on counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, disaster response, UN missions and infantry engineering.