The Chinese army “will have exclusive use of certain parts of the Cambodian naval base” | China

A Cambodian naval base being built with the help of China will include a part for the exclusive use of the Chinese army, according to a Washington Post article.

The Chinese and Cambodian governments have previously denied reports that Cambodia would allow a Chinese military presence at the Ream naval base in the Gulf of Thailand.

Such a presence would mark a significant expansion of China’s military access to the Indo-Pacific, where it currently has only one naval base, in the East African country Djibouti.

Citing unnamed Western and Chinese officials, the Post reported on Tuesday that the base will host the Chinese military in its northern section. A Western official told the newspaper that expansion plans finalized in 2020 called for the Chinese military to have “exclusive use of the northern part of the base, while their presence would remain hidden”.

The Post said a Beijing official confirmed the Chinese military would use “part” of the base, but denied it would have exclusive use of it. The official said the area would also be used by scientists and that China was not involved in any activity on the Cambodian part of the base.

Sam Roggeveen, director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, said the new information, and in particular the apparent confirmation by an official in Beijing, “reinforces the fact that this is actually happening.”

“It’s quite early so we don’t know what the capacity of the facility will be,” Roggeveen said. “Its practical value [to Beijing] is that it would make it easier for China to deploy its warships and coast guard vessels in the region, and just have a bit more presence, where it would have had to travel very long distances.

“It’s really kind of a microcosm of the larger trend in the region, which is that strategic and military power is shifting from the United States to China. China will want to become the first strategic power in Asia, it may even want to become the dominant power in Asia. You can’t do that without pushing back the United States and having foreign bases in the region. »

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was visiting Indonesia on Tuesday, said he was concerned about the reports and called on the Chinese government to be open about its intentions.

“We are in regular contact with the Cambodian government and have always been assured that no foreign military will be granted exclusive access to Ream,” Albanese told reporters in Makassar. “We have been aware of Beijing’s activity in Ream for some time. We encourage Beijing to be transparent about its intentions and to ensure that its activities support regional security and stability.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen shows the indelible ink on his finger after casting his vote in local elections this weekend. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

For some years, the United States has claimed that China intends to have a military presence at the base. In 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported on a secret deal between Phnom Penh and Beijing, in which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly agreed to give China access to the base.

Hun, who has faced questions over billions of dollars in infrastructure loans and trade deals with China – including through the Belt and Road Initiative – denied the report at the time.

“This is the worst news ever made against Cambodia,” he told pro-government newspaper Fresh News at the time. “Nothing like this could happen because hosting foreign military bases is against the Cambodian constitution.

US diplomats have repeatedly raised concerns in Cambodia about a Chinese military presence at the base. We know that China was involved in the work. In June 2016, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation announcement he had signed a cooperation framework agreement with the Cambodian defense department for a “port expansion project” of an unnamed naval military base.

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In October 2020, a senior Cambodian navy official told Nikkei Asia that China was supporting a project to expand the port and develop a ship repair facility. In June 2021, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh confirmed to local media that China was assisting in the construction of Ream, but it came “without any strings attached”.

“We want to develop a suitable place…Cambodia alone cannot do it. It’s also moderately expensive, but I don’t know how much,” he said, according to Voice of America.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Ream base is scheduled for Thursday, the Washington Post reported, with Chinese officials including the ambassador to Cambodia in attendance.

Cambodian government departments did not respond to requests for comment. Chinese officials were due to address the media on Tuesday afternoon at a regular press conference.

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