According to a report by the Washington Post, a Cambodian naval base that is being constructed with the assistance of China will include a portion for the exclusive use of the Chinese military. There are reports that Cambodia is allowing a Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand. Reports claim that part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base had been reserved for the exclusive use of the Chinese armed forces. China currently has just one naval base in the East African country of Djibouti. But such a presence in Cambodia will lead to a significant expansion of China’s military access in the Indo-Pacific.
One western official told the Guardian that expansion plans finalised in 2020 called for the Chinese military to have “exclusive use of the northern portion of the base, while their presence would remain concealed”.
The latest report accuses Cambodia of signing a secret military agreement with China, granting it access to Ream. Chinese military presence on Cambodian soil is drawing attention and concerns from neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam and Thailand. The current Cambodian government holds good ties with its neighbouring countries, Vietnam and Thailand. Bilateral relations between Thailand and Cambodia are progressing and Cambodia’s relations with Vietnam also remain harmonious despite Cambodia’s recent lean towards China.
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Ever since Cambodia’s relations with its neighbouring countries have been characterised by cooperation and understanding, it seems that allowing a Chinese military base or presence in Cambodia could lead to a deterioration of its ties with two countries in particular and also with a U.S. ally in Southeast Asia that still relies on U.S. military technology.
Implications of the move
This move to Cambodia can have grave implications. At a time when the relationship between China and the US has become competitive, the development impacting the Indo-Pacific region carries a lot of weight. Well, not just this, but its proximity to the Malacca strait, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world is raising security challenges across the Southeast Asian countries and the West. Subsequently, China is trying to develop itself as a global power which is also evident from its first overseas military base in Djibouti, which reflects that China intends to protect and secure its overseas economic interests.
To enhance China’s global power and influence, it launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. The ports built under the project were later used by China for military purposes and constructing military bases, Djibouti is one such example. So, the recent discovery of the construction of the port or the expansion of the Ream Naval Base raises strategic concerns for the Southeast Asian region and the US.
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Considering Ream Naval Base’s strategic location, it will give China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy an edge and can further undermine the security of the Indo-Pacific region. This reflects China’s ambitions of becoming a global power in the coming years. Once developed, China will further enhance and strengthen its influence in the South China sea region.
You see, it is imperative for Cambodia to comprehend China’s aspirations of becoming a true global power by building a network of military facilities around the world. It should also get alarmed by the prospect of giving away its land to China. It has nothing to gain by hosting a Chinese military presence.
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