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Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen calls for foreign military drills, aid

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo by Reuters/Damir Sagolj. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PHNOM PENH, Jun 2, 2020, AFP. Cambodia’s prime minister invited foreign powers Monday to conduct military drills in the country as he called for overseas funding to build a pier and relocate an army training centre, The ASEAN Post reported.

But the strongman premier insisted that the country would not allow a foreign “military base on its territory”.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year on a draft deal allowing China to dock warships and store weapons at the Ream naval base near the coastal city of Sihanoukville.

Hun Sen – a staunch ally to Beijing – has previously denied the claims, pointing to Cambodia’s constitution which forbids any foreign military base within its borders.

“Anyone wants to hold exercises on Cambodian territory, please come. We open the door,” Hun Sen said Monday in Sihanoukville.

He said the country would “welcome all aid from the US, France, Japan and China” to move a military training centre from the Ream base to a “new location”.

The kingdom also has aspirations to build “a new pier to repair our warships and other transportation ships from our people”, said Hun Sen, though he did not specify where it would be located.

“Frankly speaking, we need funds from China to build this one – but if you all want to give money, we would welcome it,” he said.

China has lavished billions of dollars in soft loans, infrastructure and investment on the poor Southeast Asian country.

Military exercises between China and Cambodia have also stepped up in recent years – the most recent one on counter-terrorism was held in March.

The Ream base has generated scrutiny for its strategic location in the Gulf of Thailand, which would provide ready access to the fiercely contested South China Sea – a key global shipping route.

Beijing claims the majority of the resource-rich sea, vying with six other claimant countries.

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