July 3, 2022

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The secret naval base that worries the United States

The night of laying the foundation stone for the largest naval base in Cambodia was filled with controversy and accusations. Because China started the business, it entered the yards of the Ream port facility thanks to a recent agreement with the Cambodian government. The agreement was reached during the opening ceremony last June 8, which was attended by senior Cambodian military and defense officials, as well as the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian.

Between handshakes and smiles for the camera, Beijing and Phnom Penh have promoted an “iron cooperation” that frightens the United States and Australia. Rumors that have been circulating for some time only a few hours ago were confirmed: China will help Cambodia to expand and modernize the naval base Ream, which is located on the southern coast of Cambodia facing the Gulf of Thailand.

The origins of the controversy

Why all this controversy? Last week, an official in Beijing confirmed to the US Washington Post that part of the Ream base would be used by the Chinese military, denying the facility’s exclusive use. The Cambodian diplomatic representation in Washington denied what was revealed, stressing that the Cambodian constitution does not allow any foreign military presence on the territory of the Southeast Asian country.

The deal, the amount of which is not known, predicts that in the next two years, Chinese companies and technical experts from the Chinese army will build and renovate a number of port facilities, including a ship maintenance workshop. Boats, two berths, and dry. Pier, driveway and sand cliff for the mooring of large ships.

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However, the United States and Australia are not concerned about China’s participation in the construction of the Cambodian naval base, but about the “exclusive” use of the naval base assigned to the Chinese Navy.

China and Cambodia exile

Beijing and Phnom Penh have played down US officials’ concerns and vehemently deny establishing a Chinese naval base in the Gulf of Thailand, near the Strait of Malacca, a critical global sea lane. The base “will not pose a threat to anyone,” is the bottom line of Cambodian Defense Minister T Banh, who specified that the site aims “to enhance the Cambodian navy’s ability to maintain maritime territorial integrity and combat maritime crime.”

Therefore, the repeated denial of China and Cambodia is useful to remove the suspicion of the United States, according to which Beijing will use the Ream as a military base to strengthen its access to the disputed South China Sea and expand its weight in the Indus region. . Pacific.

The United States does not agree

Washington, which notes that China has long had a naval base in Djibouti, Africa, believes that Beijing is pursuing a strategy of building a network of military facilities around the world, with the aim of strengthening its role as a great power.

The United States has long accused Cambodia of not being transparent about the activities of the Chinese armed forces at the Ream base. According to Washington, the Phnom Penh government last year destroyed a US-funded facility and rejected several projects at the Ream Naval Base, to leave more space for China.

Relations between Cambodia and the United States have stalled since Washington accused Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of an authoritarian drift from the country to pursue dissent and cling to power.

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However, Cambodia does not appear to be suffering from US divergence and, in fact, is finding time to develop diplomatic relations with China. The Cambodian Defense Minister posted on social media a photo of the closing of bilateral relations: a dive in Cambodian waters with the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia. A few kilometers from where China will see its first military outpost in Southeast Asia flourish.