China and Cambodia Start Controversial Naval Base Upgrade Despite US Concerns

China and Cambodia have started upgrading a naval base in southern Cambodia despite the controversy surrounding the Chinese-funded project.

Beijing’s ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Ream Naval Base on Thursday and said the military cooperation was part of both nations’ “iron-clad partnership.” Cambodian officials said the project to renovate the port had been launched thanks to China’s aid.

However, the base upgrading has caused controversy, as Western nations allege that the renovation reflects the Chinese government’s intention to find a military outpost in the Gulf of Thailand facilities.

Such claims were refuted by Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh yesterday. During the ceremony, he stated that the project had been designed and launched in accordance with Cambodia’s constitution, which prohibits foreign military bases on the country’s soil.

According to the state-run news agency Agence Kampuchea, Tea Banh said his government needed to update the base to preserve their nation, territory and sovereignty, describing the project as a “modernization” that includes building and rehabilitation work on a dry dock, pier, and slipway (AKP).

He also added that Cambodia is open to development assistance from other countries.

Moreover, Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian insisted that the base upgrade is not aimed at any third party but will facilitate even closer practical cooperation between the two militaries.

“As a strong pillar of the iron-clad partnership, China-Cambodia military cooperation is in the fundamental interests of our two nations and two peoples,” AKP quoted him as saying.

The two countries have strengthened their economic and diplomatic ties in recent years but have dismissed Western concerns, denying reports that China is secretly building its own naval facility at the Ream Naval Base.

However, the US government has questioned Beijing’s role in the Cambodian base, a strategic position near the South China Sea, saying China only plans to expand its military presence in the region.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated her country’s concerns about the Chinese military presence and facility construction in the territory during a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn in May.

Also, the Washington Post published an article on Monday citing unnamed officials saying that China has begun building a naval facility at Ream Naval Base’s northeast area for the exclusive use of its military.