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India warms up to Cambodia during visit of top General

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Lieutenant General Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Commander of Royal Cambodian Army, in New Delhi (Image courtesy: Twitter/@hunmanet_coarmy)

A new chapter has begun in the two millennia relationship between India and Cambodia as Lieutenant General Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, wrapped up a significant three-day visit to New Delhi on Saturday.  

With Cambodia being an important interlocutor and a good partner in the context of India’s ‘Act East’ policy – also the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region – the maiden visit to India by any Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army could be path-breaking in bilateral and army-to-army relations between the two countries.

Over the past decade or so, China has made an all-out effort to cultivate Cambodia–a move that New Delhi has noticed with some discomfort.

Hun Manet Cambodia
(Image courtesy: ADGPI)

On Saturday, the Cambodian General visited the Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre at Delhi Cantt, where he not only witnessed the training of Agniveers but also had a look at a wide range of indigenous military equipment.

He later called on Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Anil Chauhan with discussions focusing on key regional developments, issues of mutual interest and avenues for strengthening defence cooperation

Hun Manet spent Friday holding a series of meetings with Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane, Deputy National Security Advisor Vikram Misri and Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande.

Hun Manet Cambodia

In a region where China continues to wield its influence, 45-year-old Hun Manet is expected to play the role of a key decision-maker in the times to come.

The first Cambodian to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point, Hun Manet is the eldest son of Hun Sen who has been the country’s Prime Minister since 1985.

Even though the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), as recently as last week’s National Congress meeting, has not declared him as the official PM candidate for this year’s elections, Hun Manet is widely touted as the ‘energetic next-generation leader’ who is important for Cambodia’s future.

However, analysts believe that power transition through generation shift – based on an electoral vote, and not violence, this time around – is not too far away in the Southeast Asian nation with the oldest of Hun Sen’s six children set to continue his father’s legacy.

“Everybody knows Hun Manet from cities to rural areas, and even overseas. And for a party as big as the CPP, it needs a strong leadership figure with a sweeping popularity of that scale to compete and win in elections,” Phnom Penh’s leading daily Khmer Times stated in a three-part editorial a few months ago.

New Delhi, which saw the rising son follow in his father’s footsteps long ago, has highly appreciated Hun Manet’s skillful leadership, particularly in paving the way for practical cooperation between the Armed Forces of the two countries.

In November, the Cambodian General paid a courtesy call to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh when he was in Cambodia’s Siem Reap for the maiden India-ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting and the 9th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).

After the meeting, the Cambodian General’s office said that India supports him as a future Prime Ministerial candidate of the CPP and wants the military ties and defence cooperation between the two countries to continue.

The centuries-old cultural, religious and people-to-people connect between India and Cambodia was again spotlighted as the top-level RCAF delegation held a series of meetings in New Delhi on Friday and Saturday, further elevating the bilateral defence cooperation to a new level.

While General Pande reaffirmed India’s support to Cambodia by offering customised training modules for the Royal Cambodian Army, Lt Gen Hun Manet announced the schedule for the conduct of the first Army-to-Army Staff Talks in Cambodia. The Indian Army will also be conducting tailor-made courses in various contemporary subjects at its premier training establishments and deploying a training team to Cambodia.

Both India and Cambodia have long recognised Angkor Wat, an ancient temple complex in Cambodia, as the symbol of the long-lasting ties between the two countries.

The bond may only get stronger with Hun Manet’s visit to New Delhi and his future role in Phnom Penh back home.

Also Read: After restoring Angkor Wat, India now bringing back tigers to Cambodia