US raises concerns over Chinese construction at Cambodian naval base

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Oct 14, 2021, 10:15:56 AMOct 14
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US raises concerns over Chinese construction at Cambodian naval base

The US says Cambodia “has not been fully transparent” about the Chinese project at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville. Photo: ReutersThe US says Cambodia “has not been fully transparent” about the Chinese project at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville. Photo: Reuters
The US says Cambodia “has not been fully transparent” about the Chinese project at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville. Photo: Reuters

The US has raised concerns over Chinese construction activities at 

’s biggest naval base after a Washington think tank released satellite images showing what it said were new structures.

Three new buildings went up and a new road was being built at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville province during August and September, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said on Tuesday, citing satellite images from commercial sources.

The report by the think tank’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative also said other areas at the base had been cleared, potentially for more construction. It said the purpose of the construction was unclear and there were “concerns that the new facilities are being built to facilitate a 

 presence in Cambodia”.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Phnom Penh accused Cambodia of lacking transparency about the project and urged the government to disclose the full extent of Beijing’s military involvement.

“The government of Cambodia has not been fully transparent about the intent, nature and scope of this project or the role of the [Chinese] military, which raises concerns about intended use of the naval facility,” embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier said in a statement.

A Cambodian government spokesman denied China was building a facility for its military, saying the Chinese project at the naval base was part of its development assistance

“Our port is open to all when the construction is finished,” spokesman Phay Siphan said.

Change in Cambodia: Sihanoukville's Chinese influx

Cambodia has traditionally had 

 and there have been growing concerns in the US that China has privileged access to the base, which is strategically located on the Gulf of Thailand near the South China Sea.

In June, US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman raised “serious concerns” during a trip to Cambodia over the Chinese military presence and construction of facilities at the Ream base. She said a Chinese military base in the country would threaten regional security and hurt ties between the US and Cambodia.

Defence Minister Tea Banh told Sherman that China was helping to build infrastructure there but it came with “no strings attached”. A week later – despite Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen indicating that US embassy officials could regularly visit the base – a US defence attaché was 

 during a visit.

There have been tensions over the demolition of two US-funded buildings – the tactical headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security – at the naval base last year. The US also said Cambodia had rejected its offer to repair the base in 2019. That was the year Cambodia and China reached a construction agreement for the base, where a large area was then cleared and fenced off. According to the CSIS report, satellite images show construction began in May this year, next to where the US-funded buildings had stood.

Cambodian officials have said the demolition of the US-funded facility was unrelated to any Chinese construction plans and it would be relocated to a more suitable location.

Liu Zhen

Liu Zhen

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Liu Zhen joined the Post in 2015 as a reporter on the China desk. She previously worked with Reuters in Beijing.




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