China-aided renovation project kicks off in Cambodia's Ream Naval Base, ‘smears against normal exchange opposed’
Published: Jun 08, 2022 10:03 PM
Photo: The website of the Chinese Embassy in the Kingdom of Cambodia

Photo: The website of the Chinese Embassy in the Kingdom of Cambodia

The China-assisted renovation of Cambodia's Ream Naval Base does not target any third party and China firmly opposes some countries' moves to smear normal exchanges between Cambodia and China, Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian said Wednesday amid Western media reports that claimed China is building a military base in Cambodia.     

Wang made the remarks at a ceremony held on Wednesday for the start of the renovation of Ream Naval Base on the country's Gulf of Thailand coast, which was attended by more than 2,000 representatives from both sides, according to the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia.

Wang noted at the ceremony that the renovation project is an achievement of mutual respect and equal communication between China and Cambodia. It conforms with international laws and practices and does not target any third party, he noted.

After completion, the project will have significantly modernized Cambodia's naval capacity and enhanced the capacity of the whole Cambodian military to protect the country's integrity, Wang said, noting that the Chinese military would continue to provide assistance to the Cambodian side and promote the two countries' military cooperation. 

Slamming groundless accusation

Since 2019, the normal cooperation between China and Cambodia at Ream Naval Base has been demonized and distorted by the US and some Western media, with analysts saying that such reports based on guesswork and rumors are basically serving the US purpose of spreading the "China Threat" theory globally. 

The Washington Post quoted unnamed "Western officials" in an article published on Monday that claimed "China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia for the exclusive use of its military, with both countries denying that is the case and taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation."

Wang noted that some countries have criticized and smeared the normal cooperation between China and Cambodia and launched unilateral sanctions on Cambodia, rudely interfering in Cambodia's domestic affairs under the guise of democracy and human rights protection. 

"China strongly opposes the practice," Wang stressed. He said that China has gained valuable experience from its 30-year cooperation with ASEAN members, including insisting on unity and cooperation while opposing confrontation, noting that unilateralism and extreme egoism are counterproductive.  

Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense Tea Banh also attended the ceremony. He said he appreciated China's assistance in the renovation project. He noted that the project would help Cambodia enhance cooperation with friendly countries and maintain regional peace, stability and prosperity.  

The Cambodian Embassy in Washington refuted The Washington Post's claims in a statement to the newspaper, saying that it "strongly disagrees with the content and meaning of the report as it is a baseless accusation motivated to negatively frame Cambodia's image." 

The Cambodian embassy added that Cambodia "firmly adheres" to the nation's constitution, which does not permit foreign military bases or presence on Cambodian soil. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian slammed the report at a press conference on Tuesday. He said that Cambodia had already replied to the incorrect US report, but the US side turned a deaf ear to its explanation and, instead, continues with malicious speculation, smears and attacks and even threatened to suppress Cambodia over the issue, noting that this is typical bullying behavior.

Chinese experts pointed out that the Western media's speculation over the military base comes along with recent US moves to decouple with China in high technology and contain China in various fields  while hyping its so-called military expansion, which is also their speculation.  

Peng Nian, executive director of the Research Center for SAARC States of Hainan Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the US aims to destroy China's legitimate military and defense cooperation with Southeastern countries just as it did to China's cooperation with Djibouti and South Pacific island countries.  

As the capacity of the Chinese naval force continues to grow, the US is getting more anxious about China's cooperation with other countries and would take it for granted that cooperation would involve military issues, Peng said.

But in fact, the US is very clear that Cambodia's constitution does not allow foreign countries to build military bases in the country, Peng noted.

By hyping and distorting China's military cooperation with Cambodia, "the US and its media are trying to shape an image of Chinese military expansion in the region, and such hyping  is harmful to world peace," Peng warned.

The Washington Post report on Monday claimed that having a facility capable of hosting large naval vessels to the west of the South China Sea would be an important element of China's ambition to expand its influence in the region and would strengthen its presence near key sea lanes of Southeast Asia.

In response, Peng refuted the speculation, noting that China has its own islands and reefs in the South China Sea, so it is totally unnecessary for China to use a military base in Cambodia.

The real aim is to spark panic among countries that have disputes with China to disturb the stability in the region, Peng warned.

Helping neighbor to get stronger 

According to a report by Cambodian news outlet Khmer Times on Wednesday, China will assist Cambodia in the new construction at Ream Naval Base. This includes the rehabilitation of the location of the base, repairing old and obsolete ships, building and expanding a hospital, building a drydock and slipway repair workshops and training specialists, building two open docks for small and medium ships, restoring levees to allow passage of medium-sized vessels, and providing of 36,900 military uniform kits.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that the assistance from China will enhance the infrastructure construction of the Cambodian Navy, increase the Cambodian Navy's capabilities to repair naval vessels, and contribute to the Cambodian Navy's modernization.

As a coastal country, it is important for Cambodia to develop a modern navy to safeguard its national sovereignty, territorial integrity and maritime interests. In the Malacca Strait, the Cambodian Navy could also enhance its capabilities in non-traditional security fields like anti-piracy, Song said.

China's assistance in upgrading Ream Naval Base, which will contribute to peace and stability in the region, is beneficial to both countries, analysts said.