On June 6, The Washington Post cited Western officials saying that Beijing is secretly building a military base on the northern part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand. They noted that the Chinese army would exclusively use the base.

A Beijing official told the Post that the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia might show up at the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony planned for June 9. The official said that the ground station technology for China’s homegrown satellite navigation systems, BeiDou, will appear on China’s part of the base. However, this official denies that the base is opened exclusively to the army, saying that scientists will also use it. 

If it’s true, the base will be China’s first foreign naval base in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing already owns another foreign naval base in Djibouti in northeastern Africa.

The Western officials disclose that the Ream Naval base has become a target under Beijing’s plan to build a network of military facilities. This strategy will reinforce the regime’s ambition to become a true global power.

One Western official said, “We assess that the Indo-Pacific is an important piece for China’s leaders, who see the Indo-Pacific as China’s rightful and historic sphere of influence.” 

This official added, “They view China’s rise there as part of a global trend toward a multipolar world where major powers more forcefully assert their interests in their perceived sphere of influence.”

Responding to this information, the Cambodian embassy in Washington said it was a “baseless accusation motivated to negatively frame Cambodia’s image” and that its country’s law does not allow any foreign military presence in Cambodia.

In 2019, Wall Street Journal report stated that Beijing had signed a secret agreement with Phnom Penh to use facilities there. At the time, Phnom Penh also called it “fake news.”

However, the Post discloses that both governments have been trying to cover the Chinese military presence at the base. The newspaper mentioned foreign diplomats’ visits to the base were restricted to pre-appointed locations. According to the Western officials, Chinese military soldiers at the base wear uniforms similar to their Cambodian counterparts or no uniform during these visits.

In recent years, Beijing’s growing investment and influence in Cambodia have raised concerns that Phnom Penh is overly dependent on Beijing. A 2021 report from the Pentagon stated that Cambodia had demolished 2 U.S.-funded buildings at the Ream Naval Base. The move came after the Cambodian government turned down the U.S. offer to renovate one of the buildings. The report stated that the move “suggests that Cambodia may have instead accepted assistance from the [People’s Republic of China] to develop the base.”

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