On Tuesday, Cambodia and China denied press reports that they were building a secret naval base for the Chinese navy, while Australia expressed concern and called for transparency.
A new facility is being built on the Reem site in Cambodia, strategically located in the Gulf of Thailand and to be used “exclusively” by the Navy, citing Western officials who did not want to be named, according to the US daily Washington Post.
This site has been a contentious issue for many years between Cambodia and the United States. Washington has long suspected that the site would be relocated to serve China, which seeks to expand its international influence through a network of military bases.
In a telephone interview with Australian Foreign Minister Benny Wong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Brock Sokon dismissed the Washington Post ‘”baseless allegations”, according to a Cambodian government statement.
Cambodia’s government spokesman Phay Siphan told AFP earlier that “Cambodia will not allow the Chinese military to be used exclusively or to make it one of its military bases.”
Cambodia’s Defense Minister and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for new facilities, including a new ship and boat repair shop in Reim on Wednesday.
The new Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who visited Indonesia, described the information from the Washington Post as “disturbing”.
“We encourage Beijing to be transparent in its intentions and to ensure that its operations contribute to regional security and stability,” he told reporters, adding that Cambodia has assured Australia that it will not grant exclusive access to Reim to a foreign military.
Australia is increasingly concerned about the growing Chinese influence and military operations in the Pacific.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly stated that his mission is to upgrade the site and establish a new dockyard with Chinese assistance. “Cambodia does not need a foreign military presence on its border,” he said last month.
The same story in Beijing: “Transforming the Reem naval base is only intended to strengthen the capabilities of the Cambodian navy,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.
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