On Monday, Cambodia’s government denied rumors that the demolition of a US-funded facility at its Ream Naval Base was a signal that China would have base privileges there.
The statement by Cambodia’s National Committee for Maritime Security was in response to media reports that speculated China would be moving into the base. The committee described the US-funded facility as “an operational unit responsible for implementing multi-agency law enforcement” in cooperation with the US and Australia.
The statement said the facility was a temporary structure and planning to relocate it began in 2017. The committee said the facility lacked the capability to dock enough ships, so it was being transferred to another location, and there are no plans to change the relationship with foreign partners.
Rumors of a Chinese military base in Cambodia stem from a Wall Street Journal report that was published last year. The report cites unnamed US officials who claim Beijing and Phnom Penh signed a secret agreement granting China exclusive use of part of the Ream Naval Base. Cambodian officials dismissed the claims as “fake news.”
Back in June, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said China had not been granted exclusive rights to the base. Hun Sen also said warships from all nations, including the US, are welcome to dock at the Ream Naval Base. The Cambodian leader said that the country’s constitution does not allow foreign military bases on its soil.
Cambodia enjoys strong economic ties to China, and has found itself caught in the middle of Washington’s campaign against Beijing. The US sanctioned a Chinese company for building bases in the South China Sea that is also working in Cambodia as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.