China Building A Secret Naval Base In Cambodia
CAMBODIA - China is secretly building a naval base in Cambodia for the use of its military, according to statements from both Western officials and a Chinese official who partially confirmed an exclusive report from the Washington Post regarding the secret facility.
While the Washington Post had reported that Western officials said the base would be used exclusively for the Chinese military, a Chinese official said that only a portion of the base will be used by the Chinese military and denied that it would be used exclusively for the military, saying that scientists will also be using it and that China will not be involved in any activities on the Cambodian portion of the facility.
The military facility will be located on the northern portion of Cambodia's Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, according to the Washington Post report.
The officials reportedly said that the naval base will be China's second such overseas outpost, its first in the Indo-Pacific region and that it's part of China's strategy to create a 'network' of global military facilities in order to become a 'true global power'.
China's only other foreign military base is a naval base located in Djibouti, Africa. Being capable of mooring large vessels west of the South China Sea would allow China to expand its military influence in the region, as well as in key Southeast Asian sea lanes, according to officials.
One Western official told the Washington Post "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. 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".
The official reportedly stated that China is banking on the region being "unwilling or unable to challenge China’s core interests" and that through a combination of 'coercion, punishment and inducements in the diplomatic, economic and military realms' believes that it can get countries to bend to its own interests.
"Essentially, China wants to become so powerful that the region will give in to China’s leadership rather than face the consequences [of not doing so]" the official reportedly stated.
In 2019, the Wall Street Journal had reported that China signed a secret agreement with Cambodia to allow them to use the base. The article had cited both U.S. and allied officials, but Chinese and Cambodian leaders both said that the report was "fake news" and untrue rumors, saying that China was just helping Cambodia with military training and logistical equipment.
It wasn't until this weekend however, after the report by the Washington Post came out that China finally partially admitted that the 'rumors' about the secret base in Cambodia are in fact actually true, with the exception that China claimed only a portion of the base will be used by the Chinese military.
The Chinese official did say that the groundbreaking is scheduled for Thursday, and that officials from China will be attending the ceremony, including the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia.
When the Cambodian Embassy in Washington was asked for a statement regarding the Chinese naval base however, it said that it "strongly disagrees with the content and meaning of the report as it is a baseless accusation motivated to negatively frame Cambodia’s image" and said that it "firmly adheres" to the country's constitution which does not allow foreign military bases or presence on Cambodian soil.
The statement also said that "the renovation of the base serves solely to strengthen the Cambodian naval capacities to protect its maritime integrity and combat maritime crimes including illegal fishing".
Another official that spoke to the Washington Post said that the expansion plans for the military base were finalized in 2020 and allows for the Chinese military to have "exclusive use of the northern portion of the base, while their presence would remain concealed" and said that the Chinese and Cambodian government have went through great lengths to hide the presence of the Chinese military at Ream.
The official said "What we’ve seen is over time is a very clear and consistent pattern of trying to obfuscate and hide both the end goal as well as the extent of Chinese military involvement. The key thing here is the [PLA’s] exclusive use of the facility and having a unilateral military base in another country".
The official said that the secrecy around the base appears to be driven by Cambodian sensitivities, as well as a concern regarding a domestic backlash due to the fact that there is a strong opposition in Cambodia regarding allowing foreign countries to establish military bases within the country.
The official said that Cambodia isn't the only place that China is planning to establish a military base. A draft copy of an agreement with the Solomon Islands was leaked to social media in April, which was then confirmed by China that states that China will be allowed to send armed police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands in order to help maintain order, but the government has since denied that it would be allowing China to build any kind of military base there.
Another Western official said that "There’s evidence that China is developing plans and has sent technical teams to the Solomons to explore possibilities for basing facilities that would contradict some of the assurances that the government has made to allied governments".