China and Cambodia begin construction of Ream naval base, demonstrating iron-clad relationship

The launch of a project at the Ream Naval Base, which Cambodian officials say will use Chinese donations to renovate the port. comes amid Western concern that Beijing is looking for a military outpost at a site in the Gulf of Thailand.

Cambodian Defense Minister Thea Ban dismissed such claims, stressing during the ceremony that the project was in line with Cambodia’s constitution, which bans foreign military bases on its territory, and that the Southeast Asian country is open to development assistance from other countries.

“We need to upgrade our base to protect our nation, territory and sovereignty,” Thea Ban said, describing the project as an “upgrade” that includes construction and maintenance work on the dry dock, wharf and slipway, according to the state administration. news agency Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP).

The base upgrade “does not target any third party and will promote even closer practical cooperation between the two armed forces,” Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“The military cooperation between China and Cambodia, which is a strong pillar of the iron partnership, is in the fundamental interests of our two nations and two peoples,” he said, quoted by the AKP.

China’s role at the Ream naval base, which occupies a strategic position near the southern tip of Cambodia close to the South China Sea, has drawn Washington’s attention in recent years as it watches for signs that Beijing is expanding its military footprint.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated US concerns about China’s “military presence and facility construction” at the base at a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonne last month, according to the US State Department.

Both Phnom Penh and Beijing, which have strengthened economic and diplomatic ties in recent years, strongly dismissed such concerns, this week dismissing reports that China is building its own naval facility at the Ream Naval Base.

The denial came after The Washington Post reported on Monday, citing unnamed Western officials, that China was secretly building a naval facility at the northern end of the base solely for its military.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called the accusations “a typical act of intimidation” by the United States.

“The US remains deaf to Cambodia’s position, repeatedly making malicious speculations, attacking and vilifying Cambodia, and even threatening and putting pressure on Cambodia,” Zhao said.

According to the AKP, Prak Sokhonn also denied “baseless allegations” in a phone call with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Tuesday.

He added that the reconstruction of the base served “exclusively to strengthen the country’s naval capacity to protect its maritime integrity and fight crime.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the report “relatively” during a visit to Indonesia on Tuesday.

“We have been aware of Beijing’s activity in Ream for some time, and we urge Beijing to be transparent about its intentions and ensure that its activities support regional security and stability,” he told reporters, adding that the Cambodian government “consistently assured Canberra that no foreign military will be granted exclusive access to the Rome base.

China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea in recent years, as well as its growing navy and assertive foreign policy, have raised fears among Western leaders that Beijing may try to use security and other deals with foreign governments for a military presence abroad.

Currently, the Chinese military has only one overseas base in Djibouti.

Beijing has insisted that its international partnership is for common development, but it has also criticized Washington’s global network of military bases.

An editorial in state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times on Thursday said “recurring rumors” about a Chinese naval base in Cambodia have been repeatedly debunked.

But he added that “if one day, due to the need to protect national interests and assume international duties and obligations, China decides to build new supply bases abroad, it will be honest.”

“The United States has no right to point fingers and interfere with legitimate and mutually beneficial cooperation between other countries,” the article says.

Additional coverage by CNN’s Beijing bureau, Martin Goilando and Hannah Ritchie.

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