Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen has allocated $40 million to buy tens of thousands of guns from China, he said in a speech at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a Beijing-funded stadium on Monday.
Hun Sen revealed the purchase in a lengthy speech at the Chinese-funded Morodok Decho stadium outside Phnom Penh attended by China's Ambassador Wang Wentian but did not specify what type of weapons Cambodia had purchased.
He said the transaction was in addition to Chinese aid for the military and $290 million his government had already spent on weapons from Beijing.
The weapons that I have ordered are on the way and getting closer to Cambodia now. The budget spent on purchasing new weapons amounts to nearly $40 million. This amount is on top of the Chinese aid funds for the Cambodian military, he said.
I want to strengthen [our] army. I am not afraid to do this, and the weapons are coming to Sihanoukville, you go and see, said Hun Sen.
What is the problem? What country on this world does not have guns? he asked.
The guns in Cambodia are old, thus I ordered tens of thousands of guns to replace the old ones for our army, and get the old ones fixed.
The remarks came about a week after Hun Sen dismissed a Wall Street Journal report that that his government had signed an agreement allowing China to host military assets at the Ream Navy Base in the coastal city of Sihanoukville.
No such thing [has] happened, since a foreign military base will be in full contradiction to Cambodia's constitution, he said, and called for an end to the use of distorted news about China's military presence in Cambodia against us.
The government's Press and Quick Reaction Unit also issued a statement last week, saying that Hun Sen categorically rejects the fake news spread by The Wall Street Journal, which the prime minister considers ill-intentioned against Cambodia.
If confirmed, the deal granting use of the Ream Navy Base, located on the Gulf of Thailand located near a large airport a Chinese firm is building in the region, would provide China with its first naval staging facility in Southeast Asia and allow it to significantly expand patrols on the South China Sea.
Cambodian officials have been parrying suspicions that the country plans to host Chinese military assets at the base, despite having backed out of a request for Washington to refurbish a training center and boat depot built there by the U.S.
Phnom Penh's relations with Washington and other Western capitals have increasingly soured since late 2017, when Hun Sen launched a wide crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media that included the banning of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the arrest of its leader for an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
Cambodia's government has since touted improved ties with China, which typically offers cash and diplomatic support without the conditions that the U.S. and EU place on donations, such as improvements to human rights and rule of law.
Chinese investment now flows into Cambodian real estate, agriculture and entertainment�particularly to the port city of Sihanoukville�but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they say are unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese residents, and worry that their country is increasingly bending to Beijing's will.
The $40 million arms purchase represents peanuts for the Chinese, but is another sign of commitment in the never-ending love story of Phnom Penh and Beijing, said Sophal Ear of Occidental College in California.
The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on Hun Sen's remarks on Monday.
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