Beijing: A Cambodian naval facility being built with support from China has become a topic of discussion in recent days, with allegations that it will be used exclusively by Beijing’s military. While both countries have denied the report, the premise in question has run into US-Cambodian relations and Washington’s long-standing suspicion that it is being converted for use by China.
A Washington Post report earlier this week, citing unnamed Western officials, said a new facility at Cambodia’s Reem base (strategically located on the Gulf of Thailand) was being built for use by the Chinese Navy. .
According to the report, the northern part of the base will host the Chinese army. Plans for the same were finalized in 2020, with an official being quoted as saying that the Chinese military presence “will remain hidden”.
The allegation is not new, it has been brought up repeatedly over the years. For example, a 2019 report in The Wall Street Journal suggested that Beijing had signed a secret agreement to allow its military troops to be stationed at the Reim base. At that time also China and Cambodia denied this claim.
The two countries again denied the reports on Tuesday, even as Australia’s new prime minister expressed concern and called for transparency.
“We encourage Beijing to be transparent about its intent and to ensure that its activities support regional security and stability,” Anthony Albanese told reporters. While in Indonesia to shore up diplomatic ties to counter increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. Describing the report as “concerning”, he also said that Cambodia had assured Canberra that no foreign forces would be given exclusive access to the Reem base.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhon dismissed the report as a “baseless allegation” in a call with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Earlier a spokesman said that the development of the base was “not secret”.
“Cambodia will not allow the Chinese military to use it or develop the site as its military base,” government spokesman Fay Siphon told AFP news agency.
Prime Minister Hun Sen repeatedly insisted that the work was nothing more than a modernization of the base with a new boat maintenance facility developed with Chinese assistance. “Cambodia does not require the presence of a foreign military on its territory,” he said in a speech last month.
first published:June 8, 2022, 8:30 a.m.