China has signed a secret deal with Cambodia that would allow the Chinese military to use a naval base near the capital, Sihanoukville, according to reports. The move comes even as Beijing is seen expanding its military capabilities in the Gulf of Thailand region.
It is revealed that the recently signed pact between the two countries will give China ‘exclusive rights’ to operate a Cambodian naval installation in the region, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.
The report said that Cambodia would allow China to use the base for 30 years followed by automatic renewals after every 10 years. The deal would allow China to post military personnel, store weapons and provide docking of warships. Other details such as permit of carrying weapons by Chinese personnel, Cambodian passports as well as strict Chinese-only entry on the Chinese side of the port were also included in the draft, claimed US officials.
The proposed naval base is also located a few kilometres away from an under-construction airport that is being built by a Chinese company in Dara Sakor. US officials have reportedly warned that the airport could be used as a Chinese military base.
Both Chinese and Cambodian officials have denied the claims and said no such defence deal has been signed. The Cambodian government spokesman, Phay Siphan, rubbished the news saying that the claims are “fake news” adding “nothing is happening like that,” the Journal reported.
“This is the worst-ever made-up news against Cambodia,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told Cambodian Fresh News on Monday.
US Embassy Spokeswoman in Phnom Penh, Emily Zeeberg, said Washington is “concerned that any steps by the Cambodian government to invite a foreign military presence in Cambodia would threaten the coherence and centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in coordinating regional developments and disturb peace and stability in Southeast Asia”.
The report also revealed that the US-funded facilities at Raem have been instructed to be relocated for “further infrastructure development and security enhancement.” Analysts have said US-Cambodia relations may have strained due to Washington’s criticism over human rights violations in the country.
China’s access to the south-eastern port would pave the way to connect the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military base in the South China Sea through Thailand by establishing the proposed Kra Canal project. The ambitious route will help China surpass the far and busy Malacca Strait international trade route and provide access to trade and military assets all the way into the Indian Ocean.