China leg up on US for Cambodia’s military loyalty – Asia Times

China leg up on US for Cambodia's military loyalty - Asia Times

BANGKOK – The US and China are taking goes wooing Cambodia’s West Point-educated prime minister with guns, wealth, and compassion, but the Chinese are reaping the most benefits.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Phnom Penh to sell military aid and restore the usually tense diplomatic relations between the two previous military adversaries just as Beijing’s largest military training in Cambodia was wrapping up.

After attending a Singapore security forum where he met his Taiwanese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun, and Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Manet and Defense Minister Tea Seiha, Austin made a one-day halt in Cambodia on June 4.

Coincidentally, Hun Manet was the US Military Academy at West Point’s second Thai student in 1999, 24 times after Austin graduated from that in 1975.

In the midst of the smoldering conflict along the Gulf of Thailand, which is used by China’s Navy and the US 7th Fleet’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Beijing’s military improvements in Cambodia may have been facilitated by that.

The US is also concerned about Phnom Penh and Beijing’s plans to drill a river from the Mekong River to the Gulf of Thailand as well as Cambodia’s alleged human rights violations and assault on social and media rights.

Hun Manet was plainly boosted into energy last year by his autocratic father, former prime minister Hun Sen, who constantly welcomed China’s boost in Cambodia’s financial, diplomatic and military affairs.

China’s &nbsp, May 16- 30 Golden Dragon 2024 military exercises in Cambodia were” the first since Hun Manet became prime minister, indicating that he is continuing to expand his father’s embrace of China”, said Craig Etcheson, an author and researcher about Cambodian.

China unleashed their robot dogs of war while putting on a stunning display during the exercises. They were mounted on their backs.

The 15- day Golden Dragon 2024 exercises were led by China’s People’s Liberation Army ( PLA ) Southern Theater Command in guiding Beijing’s closest ally in Southeast Asia, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Joint drills were conducted off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province in central Cambodia, along with a training base with forests and mountains in the Gulf of Thailand.

China and Cambodia display their goods during joint Golden Dragon drills. Image: Handout

Golden Dragon included “more than 1, 300 Cambodian troops, more than 700 Chinese troops, three large warships, and 11 Cambodian warships”, said Cambodian Major General Thong Solimo.

Maneuvers were also carried out by two helicopters and nearly 70 armored vehicles and tanks, accompanied by weaponized robot dogs. Additionally, Chinese live-fire exercises carried out anti-terror and rescue operations.

Cambodians learned how to use” Chinese sniper rifles” including” the QBU- 191, the latest precision rifle in service with the PLA”, China’s Communist Party- run Global Times reported.

After canceling US-Cambodge military exercises, Phnom Penh agreed to host Beijing’s first Golden Dragon in 2016. A significant portion of the Chinese weapons and equipment arrived by ship and were loaded at Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Port along the gulf.

Paul Chambers, a lecturer on security and politics in Thailand and Cambodia, said,” We can definitely say that the US- China rivalry has spread to the Gulf of Thailand.

He cited the recent expansion along the gulf by China’s Ream Naval Base in Cambodia.

Ream is used by Chinese and some international shipping, but Washington worries that Cambodia might eventually permit Chinese warships to base there, escalating tensions in the Gulf of Thailand, which opens the internationally disputed South China Sea.

” With China able to use Ream for its naval military vessels, and Dara Sakor]a private airfield in Cambodia leased to Chinese ] for its air force, Cambodia has become a key geopolitical chess piece&nbsp, of Beijing in Southeast Asia”, Chambers said in an interview.

” Yes, the US- China rivalry has extended to the Gulf of Thailand”, said Arizona State University associate professor Sophal Ear, who researches Cambodia’s politics.

” Thailand’s military relationship with the US is built on decades of established alliances, joint exercises and strategic partnerships”, he said.

Thailand regularly permits the US Navy to dock at facilities along the shallow Gulf of Thailand and regularly conducts large-scale military exercises with the Pentagon.

For example, in April, the nuclear- powered Nimitz- class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, armed with missile launchers, docked at Thailand’s Laem Chabang port near Bangkok, a routine that began in 2018 in the US 7th Fleet’s area.

” We are here to make sure we are ready to respond to any crisis in the area”, Carrier Strike Group Nine Commander, Rear Admiral Christopher Alexander, said after docking.

” We are here to deter aggression”, he said, accompanied by the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s more than 80 warplanes, including anti- submarine aircraft, strike fighters and planes equipped with electronic countermeasures.

The aircraft carrier, powered by two nuclear reactors, brought 5, 000 crew members from San Diego, California, bolstering the US Pacific Fleet in the Indo- Pacific region. &nbsp,

The US Navy stated on its website that the USS Theodore Roosevelt is “tasked with maintaining open sea lanes of trade and communication, and that it is capable of projecting air superiority to all points of the globe”.

In Cambodia meanwhile, China’s low- slung, flat- backed robot dogs became a big hit during the joint military exercises.

Grinning Chinese and Cambodian uniformed troops gathered around a robodog, which has a heavy black machine gun bolted onto the quadruped’s flat back in online photos and videos posted by participants.

A Chinese officer holds a CD- sized, black box with two short, protruding antennae, resembling a Wi- Fi router, remotely controlling the robot. Numerous Cambodian officers back away, laughing uncontrollably as the crouching machine slowly rises to a four-legged standing canine position.

The robodog is captured on video from the front camera of a robot dog, who is maneuvering through a makeshift maze of scaffolding and green netting. Two Cambodian soldiers who are present aim their assault rifles into the maze, ready to advance alongside the machine.

The robot dog leaves the green maze and stalks flat, dry land, blazing its weapon, causing black smoke to come out of its barrel while supported by Cambodian armored personnel carriers.

A curved magazine for bullets and a trigger are displayed on the mounted machine gun, which allows the gun to be taken off the robodog if a human wants to shoot it. Lettering on the robot dog’s gray surface identifies it as” B1 Unitree”.

According to Cyberguy.com, a website for computer news, Unitree Robotics is” a Chinese startup that has been developing its own line of robot dogs since 2016″.

Source: NBC

” Unitree’s latest product is the B2, a sleek and powerful robot that can run faster, jump higher and carry more weight than its predecessor, the B1″, it reported.

The B2 has two high- definition optical cameras, a pair of depth- sensing cameras, and a Lidar] Light Detection and Ranging ] remote sensing module that provides it with a 360- degree view of its surroundings.

A B2 robot dog’s energy comes from a swappable, lithium battery, boosting its speed to nearly 20 feet per second, twice as fast as the B1. The robot is shown climbing stairs and remaining balanced while crossing obstacles while operating autonomously after programming or using remote control.

Robodogs can hear through a microphone and speak Chinese, which allows them to “interact with humans and other robots,” according to Cyberguy.

The B2 is a “brand new intelligent species” that can walk for five hours carrying an 18- pound load, said Unitree Robotics, based in Hangzhou near Shanghai, China. The B2’s” control and perception” has a” standard configuration: Intel Core i5 Platform Function, Intel Core i7 User Development”, it said on Unitree’s website.

Unitree stated to 20,000 X-users,” Unitree B2 continues to evolve daily with the growth of AI.”

Futurism, a New York- based website reporting technological developments, described the “terrifying gun- toting robodogs” as” a dystopian vision of what the future of warfare could look like.

According to the Pentagon, the US Army is considering “exploring the realm of the possible” in the future of combat by arming remote-controlled robot dogs with state-of-the-art rifles, according to Futurism.

A US-based military contractor known as Ghost Robotics has already demonstrated a long-range rifle-equipped robot dog.

China’s mechanical deadly dogs performing in Cambodia intrigued analysts.

The display of robotic dogs is more of a demonstration of technological prowess than a direct threat, according to Sophal Ear in an interview.

The US ought to take note of these developments as part of the wider picture of China’s expanding military capabilities and its development of unmanned systems and AI-driven warfare technologies.

Beijing’s military exercises with Phnom Penh mean” increased military presence and surveillance, potential flashpoints for conflict, and a heightened state of alert among regional nations. According to Sophal Ear, this rivalry may have an impact on regional trade routes and economic stability.

The US military has been conducting an ongoing evaluation of these systems, according to Etcheson in an interview.” Many US defense contractors have produced operational combat robot dogs.

” I see the recent display by China in Cambodia as an attempt to demonstrate that they are up to par with the development of their rival]US power,” Etcheson said.

The growing influence of China in Cambodia may shield Phnom Penh from Washington and other critics.

” China has become the Cambodian regime’s guarantee against interference from the West’s insistence on respecting international law and a measure of respect for human rights,” said Rich Garella, an American former press secretary for Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

According to Garella,” The regime is sacrificing its sovereignty and turning into a vassal state of China, as it has for centuries been,” in an interview.

Since 1978, Richard S. Ehrlich, an American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia and the recipient of Columbia University’s Foreign Correspondents ‘ Award, has been based in Bangkok. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books”, Rituals. Killers. Wars. &amp, Sex. — Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka &amp, New York “and” Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers &amp, Freaks “are available here.