- Pact assures China use of a section of an existing navy base
- Paper cites U.S. sources as saying two sides have entered pact
China has signed a secret deal with Cambodia giving its military exclusive rights to use part of a navy base in the Gulf of Thailand, the Wall Street Journal reported citing unnamed U.S. officials.
While details of the pact were not seen, U.S. sources said the two sides recently entered into an agreement that would hand China its first naval outpost in Southeast Asia. The U.S. maintains that a base in Cambodia could change the balance of power in Southeast Asia and poses a threat regional sovereignty.
According to the report, an early draft seen by U.S. officials indicates the Chinese military would use a 62-acre section of the base for 30 years, with automatic renewals every 10 years thereafter. This would include posting military personnel, storing weapons and berthing warships.
Both China and Cambodia have repeatedly denied that plans for such a base are in the works.
Bloomberg reported last week the U.S. was concerned about the military implications of a $3.8 billion resort and commercial zone in the otherwise sleepy province of Koh Kong. Last month, a U.S. ranking official accused Cambodia of rejecting an offer to use U.S. funds to repair facilities at Ream Naval Base in nearby Sihanoukville after initially submitting a request in January.
Analysts have said a base in the Gulf of Thailand would serve to reinforce China’s proposed Kra Canal through Thailand, allowing it to bypass the Malacca Strait and project power into the Indian Ocean. It would also connect a subset of existing military assets, giving it a strategic advantage in the South China Sea.
China’s People’s Liberation Army opened its first overseas base in Djibouti in 2017, while the U.S. suspects China is using its signature Belt and Road Initiative to build ports and other strategic infrastructure throughout Asia. China has meanwhile denied that it is planning on building military bases in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Like in Djibouti, China’s military plans in Cambodia make use of a dual-use model, calling for the development of two new piers — one for Chinese use and one for Cambodian, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal. Military analysts meanwhile say that a new airport being built at the nearby resort in Koh Kong would have the capacity to land bombers and other military planes.
“There is no such thing as for China to establish its military presence in Cambodia. There is no such thing out there,” Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said during a defense summit in Singapore in June.
When asked about the reported deal on Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh referred to comments made by spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg this month.
“We urge Cambodia’s leadership to honor its constitutional commitment to its people to pursue an independent foreign policy, and to protect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty for future generations,” she said.