Cambodia, China ink secret naval port deal: report

24-Jul-2019 Intellasia | AsiaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

WSJ reports China has secured exclusive access to Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, giving Beijing a new southern flank on the South China Sea

Chinese armed forces will be allowed 30 years of exclusive access to a Cambodian naval base on the Gulf of Thailand, according to a Wall Street Journal report that quoted anonymous US officials.

The secret agreement, which was reportedly reached in the spring of this year, comes amid heated speculation that China has lobbied to build a dual-use naval base in Cambodia, Beijing’s closest ally in Southeast Asia.

Cambodia’s government has denied the July 21 Wall Street Journal report, as it has all rumours and speculation about a Chinese naval presence on its territory, which would violate sovereignty-related provisions in the country’s constitution.

“This is the worst-ever made up news against Cambodia,” prime minister Hun Sen was quoted by the government-mouthpiece Fresh News on July 22. “No such thing could happen because hosting foreign military bases is against the Cambodian constitution,” the leader said.

The Wall Street Journal report said the exclusive deal will allow Chinese troops to use the Ream Naval Base, located in southern Preah Sihanouk province, for up to 30 years, with an automatic renewal every 10 years afterwards.

China currently has only one foreign naval base, in Djibouti. A Chinese naval presence in Southeast Asia would be a strategic game-changer, potentially giving China a new southern flank advantage in its escalating contest for power vis-a-vis the US and its allies in the South China Sea.

Such an arrangement would cause wider regional ripples, too. Neighbouring Thailand, for one, is known to be concerned about the presence of Chinese troops so close to its coastline.

Vietnam, which has been fighting against Chinese expansionism and militarisation in the South China Sea for years, would also likely be up in arms, particularly considering its long-time strategic hold over its neighbour.

The contested report comes as the US and China ratchet up their confrontations across Asia, a contest in which Cambodia firmly falls in step with Beijing. In 2017, Phnom Penh cancelled its regular Angkor Sentinel joint-military drills with the US, and now engages in military training drills only with China.


Category: Regional

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