Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Naval Base Upgrade Raises Suspicions

Thomas Leyk
3 Min Read

Cambodian officials have announced that the renovation work on the Ream naval base in Sihanoukville is nearing completion. However, concerns have been raised by U.S. officials, who suspect that the upgraded facility will be exclusively used by China’s military. The suspicions were heightened when satellite imagery revealed the construction of a major pier capable of anchoring aircraft carriers at the site.

Chhum Socheat, a spokesperson for the Cambodian National Defense Ministry, denied speculation that China intends to use the base to expand its influence in the region against the United States. He expressed regret over the dissemination of untrue information and emphasized that Cambodia is a small country that some countries have bad intentions towards.

Satellite imagery provided by a U.S. commercial imagery company showed the rapid development of a large Chinese military naval station at the Ream base. According to Craig Singleton, a China Program deputy director, the angled deep-water pier at Ream bears a striking resemblance to another military pier at China’s base in Djibouti. Both piers are large enough to support any ship in China’s naval arsenal, including the new 300-meter-long Type 003 Fujian aircraft carrier.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised concerns about the naval base during a visit to Phnom Penh in August 2022. He emphasized the importance of transparency and ensuring that the base is open to all countries, rather than being exclusively controlled by one country.

Em Sovannara, a political analyst, noted that the issue of the Ream base is sensitive and requires the Cambodian government to be transparent in order to appease U.S. suspicions. He suggested that diplomatic efforts should be made to strengthen ties with the United States.

The United States has alleged that China intends to maintain a military presence at Ream, which would be Beijing’s second overseas outpost. Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh stated that the Ream base would not be open for full examination by foreigners after completion. He reiterated that Cambodia does not intend to provoke any threats to any country and wishes to strengthen its protection capacities in light of geopolitical competition.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh has criticized the Cambodian government for its lack of transparency regarding the project. The Ream base is strategically located near the South China Sea, where China has asserted its sovereignty and disregarded international law.

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