Cambodia is strengthening its military ties with China. Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh spent five days in China earlier this month. He met with high-level military officials and received promises of assistance from the military.
Mr. Tea Banh told VOA his visit was successful in bringing military cooperation between the countries even closer. He said Cambodia now has stronger military ties with China than with the United States.
Observers say Cambodia is likely to seek closer ties with China because of growing tensions with Vietnam over border issues.
Cambodia and China have traditionally enjoyed good relations. But the two sides grew closer after a 2012 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At the meetings,Cambodia supported China in a dispute with other countries over the South China Sea. The following year, China provided a $195 million loan to the Cambodian government. Cambodian officials used that money to buy 12 Chinese military helicopters. In May of this year, China promised military trucks, equipment and chemicals to Cambodia's military.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has often spoken about his country's ties with China. He spoke in Kampong Som province last month at ceremonies for the opening of a road that China built. Mr. Hun Sen told a group of farmers that relations with China were stronger than ever before. He said the two sides were moving toward what he called a comprehensive partnership. He said China's development fund for Cambodia for 2015 was $140 million -- $40million more than in 2014.
Chheang Vannnarith is a visiting professor at the University of Leeds in England. He says China needs Cambodia as a partner in Southeast Asia because the area is becoming increasingly competitive. He notes competition between China and Japan, and between China and the United States.
He adds that Cambodia is taking more of a risk than China. If Cambodia depends too much on China, he says, it will lose the power to make decisions about its relations with other countries.
Paul Chambers is a professor at Thailand's Chiang Mai University. He says China is a "growing upper power" that uses Cambodia for influence within ASEAN. He thinks China is using Cambodia to help it win what he calls a "growing cold war" between China and the United States.
"I believe that Hun Sen has shown himself in the past and present to be a very good balance among allies," he says. "Hun Sen will increasingly welcome Chinese defense sector assistance to Cambodia."
Also watching developments is Hugh White, a professor of Strategic Studies at Australian National University. He says the growing military cooperation between Cambodia and China is aimed at reducing U.S. influence in the area, while building up Cambodia's military power. Henotes that the United States is seeking closer ties with Vietnam. He says China's decision to develop stronger defense links with Cambodia is a reaction to the US-Vietnam relationship.