Cambodia to host war games with China amid coronavirus outbreak

Cambodia is set to kick off its annual joint military exercise with China on Saturday, with thousands of soldiers expected to join despite events being cancelled around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Golden Dragon annual exercise will take place at a military training site in the southern Kampot province and will focus on “counterterrorism and humanitarianism”.

During the first exercise in 2016 at least 280 Cambodian soldiers and 97 Chinese troops attended the drills.

This year, 3,000 soldiers, including 265 troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army, will participate in drills scheduled until April 1.

The drills will also showcase military equipment, such as tanks, artillery, guns and helicopters.

The event comes amid the unexpected emergence of the coronavirus infection, which originated in China at the end of 2019. As of Friday, there were more than 3,000 people killed in China and close to 81,000 infected, with almost 63,000 recovered, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.

Last week, Cambodia reported its first official case from Siem Reap. Three British passengers on a tourist boat on the Mekong River were also infected with the virus and remain under quarantine on the boat.

The disease has since spread quickly to other parts of the region as well as other parts of the world. Cambodia’s neighbouring countries Vietnam and Thailand have each reported dozens of cases.

In response, the Cambodian government has cancelled a gathering for Khmer New Year that was to take place in April in Angkor Wat near Siem Reap.

Message of friendship
The military exercise, however, is another story.

Sebastian Strangio, author of soon-to-be-released In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century, said that China and Cambodia holding the military exercise fulfils a symbolic function.

“It’s possible that both sides deem the risk to be low enough that the Golden Dragon exercises can safely proceed,” he told Al Jazeera in an email.

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