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Thayer Cambodia: China-US Tug-Of-War Over Defence Cooperation?

Thayer Cambodia: China-US Tug-Of-War Over Defence Cooperation?

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
China has recently stepped up its defence assistance to Cambodia by fundng the construction of a Defence Academy. This brief analyses whether or not China seeks to supplant the U.S. as Cambodia's top defence cooperation partner.
China has recently stepped up its defence assistance to Cambodia by fundng the construction of a Defence Academy. This brief analyses whether or not China seeks to supplant the U.S. as Cambodia's top defence cooperation partner.

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Feb 17, 2013
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02/25/2013

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Background Briefing:Cambodia: China-US Tug-of-War Over Defence Cooperation?Carlyle A. ThayerFebruary 15, 2013
[client name deleted]We are working on an analysis of what appears to be a sort of tug-of-war betweenChina and the US over defense cooperation with Cambodia. We request yourassessment of the questions and issues raised below.In a previous Background Brief you wrote that the one place where China hasn'tbeen able to supplant US influence (apart from the US serving as a market forCambodian goods) was in the field of defense aid.While the US is still miles ahead in this category, there have been a few recentdevelopments (China directly providing arms such as attack helicopters, Chinaopening a military academy in Cambodia, etc.) that indicate that China is trying toestablish itself as a viable alternative to the US in terms of defense cooperation.At the same time, the US "pivot" to Asia has seen them paying what seems likespecial attention to Cambodia. The US recently announced its intentions to fostercooperation between the Marine Corps and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces(RCAF). It would appear that the Marines may even have a battalion rotating throughCambodia for six months or so (our reports are unclear on this matter). And of course, there's the US' ongoing demining aid, and port visits, and things like that.Question: does it seem that China is trying to supplant the US in the field of defenseaid, much in the same way it seems to have supplanted it in more traditional aid? If so, just how big a deal is this, and how likely are they to succeed?The US has withheld defense aid packages in the past to protest human rightsabuses, while China, I think it's safe to say, would never do that. Does that makeChina a more attractive option? If it does, how does the US counter that attraction?What do they have to offer that China doesn't?Finally, generally speaking, what does it mean for the region, and Cambodiadomestically, if Cambodia shifts away from US defense cooperation towards China?ANSWER: China is ever sensitive to the U.S. military presence in its backyard. GivenChinese economic influence in Cambodia Beijing would be especially anxious by inroads by the U.S. military. Cambodia is, after all, a semi-authoritarian state wherethe military plays an important role in domestic politics and internal security. The
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123

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