The navies of China and Cambodia have held joint exercises in the waters off Cambodia’s southern coastal province of Preah Sihanouk and conducted a coordinated navigation and communication drill. The activities represent a significant development in the defence relations between the countries.

The joint exercises, code-named ‘Golden Dragon 2023’ involved Chinese and Cambodian naval forces, with the PLA Navy’s amphibious dock landing ship Jinggangshan delivering the Chinese troops to the two patrol crafts from the Royal Cambodian Navy.

China has been increasing its military ties with Cambodia over the past few years, providing the country with military aid, training, and equipment.

China has been expanding its presence in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative, which according to GlobalData’s “China’s Defense Market 2022-2027“, is a strategy of building connectivity, financial integration, and facilitating trade through infrastructure projects to connect diverse regions across Asia to Europe and Africa. 

An example is Pakistan’s Gwadar port (part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the Belt Road Initiative), serving as a deep-water port with dual uses for commercial and military interests.

China’s growing military presence in regions such as this has raised concerns among some of its neighbours, particularly India, which has caused significant concern in the Indian Government as China expands its maritime presence in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. The joint naval exercise indicates China’s military expansion in the region.  

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This month, Naval Technology reported on China’s has a secret naval base in Cambodia, which when taken together with the recent naval exercises indicates that bilateral ties between the two countries are being further cemented.

The exercises demonstrate the growing military ties between the two countries and their commitment to working together to enhance their military capabilities. The joint exercises are also likely to further enhance China’s influence in the region and could have broader implications for the geopolitical dynamics of southeast Asia.