Images show Chinese-funded construction at Cambodian naval base is progressing rapidly
Stars and Stripes March 21, 2023
Construction efforts are rapidly moving forward on a Cambodian naval base that U.S. officials say will secretly host Chinese forces, according to a British news site.
At least 25 buildings and two piers have been completed since 2019 at Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, according to a March 14 report from London-based Naval Technology that cited recent satellite imagery from geospatial intelligence company BlackSky.
Beijing is funding the extensive construction efforts, and the Pentagon considers the base to be China’s first overseas installation in the Indo-Pacific, according to a 2022 Department of Defense report to Congress.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday denounced reports that Ream will permanently host Chinese forces as a “campaign to slander Cambodia by foreigners and politicians,” according to Radio Free Asia. He said the base is meant for Cambodian forces and is “not a threat against anyone.”
The construction includes “deeper port facilities that would be necessary for the docking of larger military ships” and suggests that Beijing has “diversified its overseas basing strategy” by aiding in the construction of foreign military facilities to expand their own presence, according to the DOD report.
BlackSky’s satellite imagery showed that one of the piers measures more than 2,200 feet and has nearly 1,000 feet of usable docking area, according to the Naval Technology report.
The pier extends into waters “deep enough to service aircraft carriers, with columns deployed to a length sufficient to moor these vessels,” according to a Feb. 28 Naval Technology report.
The Wall Street Journal in 2019 first reported that Cambodia and China had signed a secret deal to allow Chinese forces exclusive access to the base in exchange for construction assistance, citing unnamed western sources. Hun Sen and Beijing have both repeatedly denied those allegations.
Such a deal between China and Cambodia would violate the country’s 1993 constitution, which says Cambodia won’t “permit any foreign military base on its territory” or have its own military base abroad except through a United Nations request.
Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Bahn in June 2021 said Beijing would help “modernize and expand Ream,” but would not be the only country with access to the base, according to the 2022 DOD report.