Cambodia denied again on Tuesday that it will allow any Chinese military presence at a port where it and China are beginning an expansion this week that has prompted concern in the United States and elsewhere that it will be used by Beijing as a naval outpost on the Gulf of Thailand.
Chief government spokesman Phay Siphan described the expansion of the Ream Naval Base as “cooperation between China and Cambodia” and said the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia will preside over the groundbreaking on Wednesday along with Cambodia’s defense minister and other senior military officials.
He denied, however, a report in the Washington Post newspaper citing an anonymous Chinese official that the facility on the northern side of the Cambodian base would be used in part by the Chinese military.
Mr. Siphan said it would be a violation of Cambodia’s Constitution to host a foreign military power. He would not comment on the extent of the Chinese involvement and said the project involved constructing a facility for repairing ships.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday said the work would be a “renovation” of the base which “aims to strengthen the Cambodian navy’s capability to maintain maritime territorial integrity and combat maritime crime.”
Ream faces the Gulf of Thailand, adjacent to the South China Sea, where China has aggressively asserted its claim to virtually the entire strategic waterway. The U.S. has refused to recognize China’s sweeping claim and routinely conducts military manoeuvres there to reinforce that they are international waters.