Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Saturday that foreign governments should not “ill-treat” Cambodia, and accused those suspicious of an alleged Chinese naval base in Koh Kong province of being jealous of the investment from the Asian giant pouring into the Kingdom.
A story by Hong Kong-based online news portal Asia Times has led to talk that a concession in Koh Kong province for a large tourism complex could be hiding the construction of a Chinese naval base.
In his opening speech at the annual Sea Festival in Koh Kong on Saturday, Hun Sen questioned why US Vice President Mike Pence had raised the matter, going so far as to write a letter.
“I don’t understand why the vice president of the US wrote a letter to me about this. Did the US receive intelligence and then the vice president wrote a letter to me like this?” he asked an audience that included government officials.
“Now in the sky, there are satellites to capture [ground images]. Have we built a [naval] base or a place for submarines? If we really have a naval base, what need does Cambodia have of one?"
“I don’t allow the purchase of submarines [for the Cambodian navy], so there is no need for a naval base in Cambodia. I will not permit one,” he said.
Hun Sen reiterated that the Constitution does not allow for the presence of foreign forces in the Kingdom or for Cambodian troops to be present in other countries unless as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
The prime minister went on to question assertions that infrastructure in Cambodia can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
“And your claim that infrastructure in Cambodia can be used for both civil and military purposes – how is it in your country? Can [aircraft] for military and civil purposes land at your [airports]? If yes, why [should] Cambodia [be any different]? Does Cambodia have to transport tourists using ox-drawn or horse-drawn carts?"
Hun Sen questioned the intentions behind raising the matter and said: “‘This country’ [seemingly implying the US] had ‘killed’ and destroyed Cambodia in the past. I don’t understand the people who have raised this issue. If a politician receives such information from intelligence and follows the information, that politician is naive and I should teach the politicians of these countries.”
He said such allegations could be born out of jealousy.
“I want you to use your brain more than this. Don’t continue to kill Cambodia, don’t ill-treat Cambodia. We just develop beaches and you haven’t invested [in coastal areas]. You are jealous of the companies that invest there. And you, in turn, accuse us of having foreign military bases,” he said.
The prime minister said Cambodia has a master plan to upgrade Sihanoukville airport into an international hub, with investment from a French company, while Bangkok Airways was to invest in Koh Kong airport to help increase the influx of tourists.
“Do they want this nation to die again?” he asked.
Hun Sen said that even though his government was able to amend the Constitution, he would not do so to allow foreign troops to be present in Cambodia and vice-versa.
“This is my statement to [be clear] about this,” he said.
Last month, the prime minister said the US Vice President Mike Pence had written to him to express concerns about an alleged Chinese military base in Koh Kong. Asia Times reported that this would likely happen.
The online news site based its report on diplomatic sources and a 68-page report titled Harbored Ambitions: How China’s Port Investments are Strategically Reshaping the Indo-Pacific by Davin Thorne and Ben Spevack.
It alleged work on a deep-water port that could anchor ships of 10,000 tonnes and larger was underway, but construction stalled last year.
The report claimed this violated Cambodian law as the Chinese company concerned had received a land concession larger than was permitted.
Cambodian government officials and Prime Minister Hun Sen at the time denied the allegation of a naval base, dismissing it as “fake news”.