Sky News Australia: “China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia, taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation.”
Just weeks after President Joe Biden pledged to keep Indo-Pacific “free and open” during his visit to Asia, China has reportedly began work on a naval base in the region.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is constructing a secret naval outpost in the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, media reports say. “China plans to build a secret naval base in Cambodia as Beijing seeks to expand its military footprint among client states overseas and project its global power,” The Times of London reported Tuesday.
While Beijing claims that it is merely helping Cambodia “upgrade” an existing commercial port overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, news reports from the region suggest otherwise. “China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia, taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation,” the TV channel Sky News Australia revealed quoting Western officials.
Reports indicate that the port project has clear military components to it. The Cambodian port of Ream “being constructed with the assistance of China will include a portion for the exclusive use of the Chinese military,” The UK newspaper Guardian noted, citing similar Western sources.
The Reuters reported the U.S. concern over the Chinese naval base:
A decision by Cambodia to expand its biggest naval base and allow the Chinese military exclusive use of a portion of it shows an extraordinary lack of transparency, a senior U.S. defense official said on Thursday.
A Chinese official said on Wednesday an “iron-clad partnership” with Cambodia was bolstered by military cooperation, as work began on a China-funded upgrade of Cambodia’s Ream naval base. (…)
The United States believes that the expansion plans for the base included exclusive use of the northern portion of the base for China’s military and neither country had shared full details about the extent of Beijing’s plans to have a unilateral military base there.
“The lack of transparency has been extraordinary…(it is) in direct contravention of months and months of denial by them that there was any PRC involvement,” the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
The official said the two countries had taken steps which were “bordering on the absurd” to hide Chinese military activity, including disguising Chinese personnel during visits by foreign officials to the base.
The Chinese “presence at Ream base on Gulf of Thailand would significantly expand its presence in Indo-Pacific,” the Guardian concluded. This, however, is not the first Chinese naval base overseas. The PLA has a naval base in the east African country of Djibouti. The Chinese navy is also reportedly operating from the secretive naval base in Pakistan’s Gwadar, a deep-sea port situated on the Arabian Sea.
In addition to expanding its global military footprint, China has built artificial islands in the South China Sea to operate as forward naval bases. These islands, which China started building under President Barack Obama’s watch, have been equipped with military bases, ports and airfields, that are fit to accommodate nuclear-capable bombers.
The growing Chinese naval expansion in the region threatens to reverse the geostrategic achievements attained during President Donald Trump’s tenure. In 2017, President Trump revived the “Quad,” a U.S.-led four-nation alliance comprising Australia, Japan, and India. The aim of the coalition was to contain China in the Indo-Pacific.DONATE
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