China pledges $135m to Cambodia ahead of polls

PHNOM PENH • China has pledged around US$100 million (S$135 million) to help modernise Cambodia's military, Phnom Penh said yesterday, highlighting strong ties between Beijing and a government that critics accuse of destroying democracy ahead of an election next month.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party is expected to easily win the general election on July 29 after the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last November at the government's request.

The military aid was offered by Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, who is currently in Phnom Penh to attend a China-Cambodia military exhibition, during a visit that began last Saturday and will end today.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said that General Wei "pledged more than US$100 million grant" to be used for whatever Cambodia required, and that the Chinese and Cambodian armies would conduct joint exercises, dubbed Dragon Gold, again next year.

"He didn't specify what we can buy, just for use for any necessary need," the spokesman said.

China is Cambodia's biggest aid donor and its backing has bolstered Mr Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 33 years.

The ban on Cambodia's opposition was condemned by the United States, the European Union and other countries.

Mr Hun Sen has accused the US of supporting the CNRP in staging a "colour revolution" to overthrow his government.

Cambodia suspended joint military exercises with the US indefinitely, but has held joint military drills with China twice since 2016.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'China pledges $135m to Cambodia ahead of polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe