Cambodia Destroys 2nd US-Funded Facility, US Suspects Turn to China for Ream Naval Base
The Kingdom of Cambodia has demolished a second US-funded military facility within a couple of months in its Ream Naval Base as part of an arrangement to expand the base with aid from China.
Formerly developed with US military aid, the Ream Naval Base is now set to undergo China-backed expansion in an effort causing American concern that the base will hosting Chinese military assets.
The Ream Naval Base is a base of the Royal Cambodian Navy on the Gulf of Thailand, with access, by extension, to the South China Sea, much of which is claimed by China.
The Chinese claims in the resource-rich South China Sea are in contest with those of six Southeast Asian nations, and are opposed by the United States.
In July 2019, citing anonymous US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported what was described as a secret deal between Cambodia and China, giving the latter 30 years of exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base.
In September 2020, the Cambodian authorities razed to the ground a tactical naval headquarters at the Ream Base built with US funding, and in October, they finished the demolition of a maintenance facility there constructed back in 2017, also with American money, AFP and France24 reported.
The dismantling of a second US-funded facility in Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base has gone without any warning or notification to the United States, leading the US Embassy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to issue a rebuke.
“We are disappointed that Cambodian military authorities have demolished another maritime security facility funded by the United States, without notification or explanation,” embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier was quoted as saying.
In October 2020, statements by US officials made it clear the United States was concerned the demolitions of American-funded facilities at the Ream Naval Base on Cambodia’s Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea coast might be connected with plans to host there Chinese military assets.
On Tuesday, November 10, 2020, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh confirmed to AFP the demolition of a second US-funded military facility at the Ream Base.
Tea Banh insisted Cambodia was not obliged to notify the United States of its plans for the naval base, and argued that the Cambodian government was acting in its own interests.
“We do this for Cambodia totally, not to serve anyone [else]. Cambodia has the right to seek aid from anyone who wants to help Cambodia’s development,” the Cambodian Defense Minister said.
Back in June 2020, Cambodia’s government denied the media reports about a secret naval base deal with China, and insisted that the country’s foreign policy was independent.
It has said that the facilities slated for demolition would be relocated 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of the Ream Naval Base because they had outgrown their sites.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is perceived as distancing himself from the United States in recent years over American criticism of alleged abuses by his Cabinet.
Hun Sen has been emphasizing that Cambodia’s constitution forbids any foreign military base on its territory.
The Ream Naval Base is also considered as a strategic spot in light of floated plans to build a canal through the Kra Isthmus in Southern Thailand.