PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday publicly pushed back on criticism of a large seaport construction project, saying that China’s military and forces from other nations will only be visitors at Ream Naval Base.
Since Cambodia and China broke ground on construction last June, there has been speculation that the base, which was built with a grant from China as well as construction workers from the Chinese military, would become more than just a port for Cambodian vessels and visiting navies.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for students in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen rejected suggestions that any foreign troops would be stationed there, saying the base is part of Cambodia’s right to defend its territory.
“Cambodia would like to reiterate that there are no Chinese military or troops from other countries present in Cambodia. Once completed, Cambodia would welcome all countries to dock their ships in Cambodia’s seaport, and we could conduct joint military exercises together,” the prime minister said.
The prime minister said the government has wanted to expand the port as part of greater capacity building of Cambodian armed forces and to fight against crimes such as drug smuggling and illegal fishing in waters off Cambodia’s coast.
U.S. officials have repeatedly raised concerns over Cambodia’s plans for the base. In November, the White House said President Joe Biden raised concerns regarding the situation at Ream Naval Base in a meeting with Hun Sen on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit. A statement said Biden, “underscored the importance of full transparency about activities by the PRC military at Ream Naval Base.”
Cambodia analyst Seng Sary, who works outside the country, told VOA that other allies, including Australia, have raised concerns over China’s intentions at the port.
“The ASEAN region, seen in the angle of geopolitics, is in direct confrontation with Indo-Pacific region – that is Australia. If China could expand its influence in ASEAN and could have a military base in a country that it could use to expand influence, it means that China could move closer or confront with a country allied with the U.S. like Australia,” he said.
Sary said there is no real way for Cambodia to clarify China’s status at the base until Cambodia demonstrates how it will use the base. “If it’s about using it to enhance the capacity building of its naval force with the aims to promote its sea trade services, then time will tell to the world and superpower countries Cambodia’s position over the issue.”
Source : Voa News