U.S. calls Cambodia opaque over Chinese activity at navy base

U.S. calls Cambodia opaque over Chinese activity at navy base


The United States in October 2021 accused Cambodia of lacking transparency about Chinese construction activities at its biggest naval base and urged the government to disclose to its people the full scope of Beijing’s military involvement.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies in mid-October made public what it said were satellite images showing construction in August and September 2021 of three buildings and the start of a new road.

Any foreign military presence at Ream Naval Base would violate Cambodia’s Constitution and undermine regional security, Chad Roedemeier, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, said in a statement. (Pictured: Sailors stand guard at Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, in July 2019.)

“The government of Cambodia has not been fully transparent about the intent, nature, and scope of this project or the role of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] military, which raises concerns about intended use of the naval facility,” he said.

“The Cambodian people deserve to know more about the project at Ream and to have a say in this type of military agreement, which has long term implications for their country.”

Cambodia’s ties with the U.S. have frayed in recent years over U.S. allegations that the Southeast Asian nation’s ruling party persecutes opponents, as well as over concerns about the PRC’s growing influence.

In 2020, Cambodia said it had razed a U.S.-funded facility at the Ream base to allow for expansion. The U.S. said Cambodia turned down its offer to repair the base a year earlier.

Cambodia has repeatedly denied reports that it is planning to let the PRC station its forces at the facility.

Such a move would be significant in a region where the U.S. has for decades maintained a presence, including through joint exercises in countries such as the Philippines and Thailand.

Phay Siphan, Cambodia’s government spokesman, said Chinese construction at Ream was part of the PRC’s development assistance and not for its military.