A new Thailand-Cambodia military boost? – The diplomat

Asia Defense

A closer look at recent reports that the two sides agreed to step up defense cooperation.

Last week, the Thai army chief paid his first visit to Cambodia since taking office last September. The trip once again highlighted the defense relationship between the two militaries, including potential areas for increased security collaboration despite long-standing and persistent challenges.

As I have already noted in these pages, security cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand has long been an important part of a rather complex and multi-level bilateral relationship, whether in areas of collaboration such as as managing cross-border trade or dealing with long-standing challenges such as transnational crimes or pending border disputes. And while routine border management security meetings have continued to take place, there have also been signs of intensifying ties in this area, amid fears that an alliance will emerge. authoritarian between Thailand’s ruling junta led by Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen as they seek to quell dissent and consolidate their authority in their country (see: ” What is in the Thailand-Cambodia Foreign Fugitive Agreement? ”).

The focus was on the relationship in 2018, given that it is an important year for both regimes, with Cambodia having elections in July and Thailand planning elections next year after multiple postponements. These were further reinforced by the harsh statements Hun Sen and Prayut made about cracking down on their political opponents at home and abroad, which led to several rounds of headlines as well as even regular interactions. .

This week, military relations between Cambodia and Thailand once again made headlines as Supreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) Thanchaiyan Srisuwa paid a two-day official visit to Cambodia. The visit, which was Thanchaiyan’s first to Cambodia since taking office in September last year, came just weeks before Cambodia’s election amid continued speculation in Thailand over whether whether a new deadline for long-delayed elections will actually be met and the potential impacts on the country’s political environment.

Official statements from both sides predictably express the purpose of the visit in rather vague terms, referring to strengthening friendship and cooperation between the two armies, and emphasis was placed, among other things, on on the fight against a series of non-traditional security threats, in particular drug trafficking and trafficking. Thanchaiyan received senior Cambodian officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Defense Minister Tea Banh and Acting Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Pol Saroeun.

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Although there were few details publicly and officially disclosed by both sides during the visit, reports have revealed that one of the results of the trip was further military cooperation between the two sides. According to Bangkok PostThanchaiyan said Cambodia will send military and police to attend VIP protection training and joint humanitarian and disaster relief exercise in Thailand for the first time since the two sides had clashed over the temple of Preah Vihear.

Of the two interactions, Thanchaiyan reportedly said the VIP protection course would see 25 Cambodian police and military personnel attend the VIP protection course at the Armed Forces Security Center attached to the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which includes driving for VIP personalities and shooting. ensure their safety; while HADR training exercises would be conducted in the Armed Forces Development Command Unit in Chachoengsao Province and could help personnel deal with disasters that may arise in border areas.

For all the headlines that followed this announcement, it’s worth noting that few additional details were provided on the aforementioned two military interactions, including when exactly they would take place. This is a particularly important issue given that some of the recent momentum for intensifying defense ties has come amid the political dynamics at play in the two countries which could change with the transitions to to come. Nonetheless, at least for now, both sides seem seriously keen to follow through, with Cambodian media Khmer time quoted a Defense Ministry spokesperson as confirming that Cambodia would send personnel for the exercise to Thailand and that Phnom Penh and asked Bangkok how to resolve issues resulting from natural disasters along the border.

Furthermore, while Thai and Cambodian military officials have been keen to suggest that this is further evidence of a new era in defense relations and that the Preah Vihear dispute is a thing of the past, it is not. Still, the dispute itself, along with other challenges for the relationship, are still there even though they are best handled for now. All of this to say that while the two countries are now keen to strengthen their military ties, the reality is that there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what lies ahead despite the sunny rhetoric we are hearing.

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