The recent signing of agreements on military cooperation between Cambodia and India has been met with some optimism by the Kingdom’s experts in geopolitical matters.
Cambodia and India recently signed documents on conditional cooperation between the armies of the two countries in order to develop and strengthen bilateral relations and open direct communication between their military units.
Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), visited India and met with Indian Army commander Manoj Pande last week in Delhi.
Statements released by both sides said the meeting marked a new step taken towards encouraging practical cooperative activity, especially through the opening of direct communication between the units of the two armies.
Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said that expanding international cooperation and diversification of military ties is an important and indispensable part of Cambodia’s policy to modernise the military and increase national defence capabilities.
“India is a major regional power with a strong military and rising economy. The visit by Manet was a good sign that the cooperative bonds between the militaries of the two countries are tightening and it turned a new page for the cooperation between them,” he said.
He continued that Cambodia has a policy of strategic neutrality that does not favour one country over another and it continues to support multilateral mechanisms and cooperation that serves to protect regional peace on the basis of mutual respect and the principles of international law.
Cambodia’s foreign policy, he added, is still mainly focused on socio-economic development, but global peace has proven fragile and matters become hard to predict with tense superpower rivalry taking place between the US and China, so it was necessary for Cambodia to have a strong defence so that it can immediately and effectively respond to all developments.
Researcher Vann Bunna said that the visit was good for military cooperation between Cambodia and India as the two countries have deep-rooted ties and cultures.
However, Bunna said their military cooperation remains limited as compared to ties with China,
“Historically [Cambodia-India] bilateral relations were just at the level of religion and culture, so this represents a new development,” he said.
He noted that cooperation at this time was just at the level of signing agreements that would then require further implementation through specific mechanisms, but it was an important step to take on a symbolic level.
“It was good for Cambodia to establish military relations with India, including the provision of military equipment assistance, military training and more, especially if there could be joint military drills.
“Such drills would show that Cambodia wants to have more friends in the region and isn’t entirely dependent on China, and it could demonstrate India’s commitment to strengthening its more assertive policy approach to the Indo-Pacific region,” Bunna said.
Seng Vanly, a lecturer in international relations, lauded the strengthening of this military cooperation between Cambodia and India as India is a rising major power in both military and economic contexts, having recently surpassed China as the most populous country on the planet.
He said that India in the past and present is a middle power or a neutral regional power and avoided taking sides in the geopolitical competition between the US and the Soviet Union when it existed, but its relationship to China is more fraught as they share a disputed border and their militaries have clashed there in the past.
Vanly said that the military cooperation could help Cambodia diplomatically and it enables the Kingdom to steer its foreign policy on its own and embrace new partners instead of depending on traditional alliances.
“To avoid possible risks related to finding itself in the middle of tensions between the US and its allies and China due to Cambodia’s security relationship with China, the Kindom should diversify its security and military contacts with other partners, for example with Japan and South Korea, in the same way they have now with India,” he said.