PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Three Chinese warships arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday on a visit aimed at strengthening already close ties between the two nations.

Cambodian Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Chhum Socheat said the ships carrying nearly 700 crew members docked at the port of Sihanoukville on the country's southern coast. He said a total of 17 warships from China have visited Cambodia in recent years.

In 2016, Cambodia hosted its first major naval and ground joint exercises with Chinese forces.

Cambodia has grown increasingly close to China in recent years as the government of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen has become estranged from the United States, which is critical of his authoritarian rule.

China is Cambodia's most important political and economic ally. It has provided millions of dollars in aid and investment over the past decade, agreed to write off debts and granted Cambodia tariff-free status for hundreds of items.

Cambodia in turn has demonstrated its willingness to do Beijing's bidding in diplomatic initiatives in the region, especially regarding Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.