Two ministries have denied plans for a Chinese naval base in Cambodia and that the Kingdom is caught in the middle of US-China “cold war”.
In a press release on Saturday, a Ministry of National Defence spokesperson called the spread of information about a naval base in Koh Kong province “fake news”.
“This is just fake news that foreigners with bad intentions are trying to spread to accuse Cambodia [of something it has not done], [to cause] incitement [and] to confuse the national and international audience, with the intention to destroy the independence and permanent neutrality of Cambodia,” the Ministry of Defence said.
The press release said Cambodia was committed to protecting the security of its citizens and thwart all attempts to take the country into any new war in order to continue the Kingdom’s development to prosperity.
“Cambodia [will not] join any ‘cold war’ or allow any country to use Cambodian territory as a military base as fake news has spread this [false] accusation."
“The spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defence wholly denies the article by Asia Times that smears, incites and affects the military’s prestige and Cambodia’s permanent neutrality, and we would like to request a stop to the spread of unsourced news,” the press release said.
On Thursday, Asia Times published an article headlined “Cambodia at the centre of a new cold war”.
The Hong Kong-based online news portal cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying a Chinese naval base is underway in Koh Kong province, “though it remains unclear how far construction has progressed”.
It said the size of the alleged naval base was 45,000ha on a concession in south-western Koh Kong province.
“Since 2017, China has lobbied Cambodia for a port in Koh Kong on the Gulf of Thailand that could also be used as a naval base, though it remains unclear how far construction has progressed on the deep-water port.
“Diplomatic sources have told Asia Times that an emerging Chinese naval base in Cambodia could soon be critically raised by US Vice President Mike Pence, who is [was] in Singapore for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit and to Papua New Guinea for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit,” the report said.
There have been no reports that Pence brought up the issue at the stated meetings. However, concern was raised by John Sullivan, the US Deputy Secretary of State, during a meeting with Prak Sokhonn, the Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the 33rd Asean Summit in Singapore on Thursday.
“His Excellency [Sullivan] also said that the biggest concern now was related to the purported news that a military base would be built in Cambodia. [Sullivan] said if this was true, it would severely affect bilateral relations [between the nations],” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release said.
Sullivan said he appreciated Cambodia for agreeing to resume the search for the remains of American soldiers, and the release of former opposition leader Kem Sokha on bail at his home, according to Saturday’s press release.
Responding to Sullivan’s concerns, Sokhonn said talk of a military base was mere rumour.
“For the news about the establishment of a naval base in Cambodia, His Excellency deputy Prime Minster [Sokhonn] responded that it was just a rumour stemming from the increase in Chinese investment in the area,” the press released said.
“The Cambodian Constitution doesn’t allow foreign military bases in its territory or [the Kingdom] having a military base in foreign countries, except [as part of] the UN scheme, like sending blue-helmet peacekeepers to take part in UN’s peacekeeping mission. Cambodia will not violate its constitution.”
Mithona Phouthorng, the governor of Koh Kong, told The Post on Sunday that there was no naval base under construction in her province, only the construction of an international airport, which was expected to be completed in 2020.
“What basis did they have for this information? The provincial authority has never heard any information about a naval base, not at all. There is only investment here,” she said.
The governor added that Chinese investment was increasing in Koh Kong, but not to the level of Preah Sihanouk province.