Cambodia government officials and academics have said a report alleging the possible existence of a Chinese naval base in Koh Kong province was “just psychological warfare”. They said a site inspection would not be not required.
The Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) on Saturday held a round table discussion on whether the Kingdom needed the assistance of foreign forces. Officials from the ministries of National Defence and Justice, and government spokespersons were invited to give their views.
The topic was raised after US Vice President Mike Pence sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing his concerns regarding a report by Hong Kong-based news site Asia Times of a Chinese naval base under construction in Cambodia, likely in Koh Kong province.
RAC president Sok Touch said he had visited the site recently and did not find evidence of a naval base under construction.
He said if there was such a base under construction as stated by the report, the US would see it with their satellites.
“But what was published was just psychological warfare. The US knows about all what Kim Jong-un has produced,” he said, referring to North Korea’s nuclear programme.
He said the concerns over a Chinese naval base came from US suspicion over Chinese investments in the Kingdom as the US itself used similar measures in such programmes as the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program) which aimed to rebuild the economies of Western European countries after World War II.
“[The US] used to do something like this. When the Chinese come and invest at a high level [in Cambodia], you think they have come to put in [a base]. Let’s see if they will put [a base here],” he said.
Touch said a foreign military base is not needed by the Kingdom but investments are welcome.
Ministry of National Defence spokesperson General Chhum Socheat said a site inspection is not required as there is nothing matching the Asia Times report there.
“I think whether we check the place or not, there will be nothing [there]. The most important thing is whether or not [those who speak of the existence of a Chinese base] accept the truth,” Socheat said.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said “the topic was raised by a ‘whistleblower’ to put the focus on Cambodia”.
He said there was no point in calling for independent bodies to inspect the site as “Cambodia is an independent state [and so] no one can come to inspect [the site]”.
“This is a concern of the US only. We will see more to come, but Cambodia must be united, Cambodia must keep its stance on foreign policy. We are not alone – we are in a bloc [Asean] which together maintains national defence and security,” he said.
Siphan said Cambodia keeps a firm stance on its relations with China and the US.
“We still have equal relations with both China and the US, [and there is no point in them] having a conflict with each other [over their standing with Cambodia],” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last week said he had received a letter from the US Vice President raising concerns about the possible existence of a Chinese naval base in Koh Kong and that he would clarify Cambodia’s position on the matter to Pence.
During a farewell meeting with outgoing US ambassador William A Heidt last Tuesday, the prime minister said he had written a letter to Pence stating there were no foreign military bases in Cambodia.
However, analyst Lao Mong Hay said concerns regarding a Chinese naval base were not without basis and that the situation should be clarified to Cambodians.
“Apparently ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ in this allegation regarding the construction of a Chinese naval facility in Koh Kong."
“It is no good keeping the Cambodian people in the dark over a matter affecting the country’s sovereignty, independence and neutrality."
“They once suffered badly from the Vietnam War, when the Sihanouk government secretly allowed the Vietnamese communist forces fighting that war to build sanctuaries in the regions bordering South Vietnam and to use the country’s seaport and roads to channel their war supplies to those regions,” he said.