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Airport ‘not China landing base’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre, donning a sky-blue shirt), a large number of government officials and other attendees pose for photos during the premier’s visit to the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport on Sunday. SPM

Airport ‘not China landing base’

Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned critics to refrain from viewing the new airport in Siem Reap province as part of China’s strategic capacity strengthening, as he reiterated Cambodia’s constitutional clause that prohibits the presence of foreign military on the Kingdom’s territory.

Hun Sen made the remark while inspecting the progress of the construction of the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport on April 3.

“I want to make it clear to all analysts that they must not see this airport as China’s landing base. Don’t bother with analyses like this. If they [China’s military] want to land, they can even land in Pochentong [Phnom Penh International Airport]. Don’t be sceptical – they can land anywhere they want to if they begin military operations,” Hun Sen said sarcastically.

Scheduled to be completed in March 2023, Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport has been funded by capital investment worth $880 million. Located in Ta Yek commune of Sotr Nikum district, construction on the airport started in March 2020 with more than 1,000 workers, of whom 70 per cent are Cambodian.

Construction has been announced by State Secretariat of Civil Aviation spokespeople to be “22 per cent complete”.

“I hope that all analysts will not see Siem Reap international airport to be a part of China’s effort to strengthen their capacity abroad and in Cambodia ... Don’t make such a crazy analysis. Cambodia doesn’t need foreign military, we only need foreign visitors,” he said.

“Cambodia is not ‘ignorant’ enough to let foreign military build their base in its territory because it is against the Constitution. Cambodia does not even allow [foreign] military advisers, but permits Military Attaches [stationed in foreign embassies].

“For what reason would we allow Chinese troops or other foreign troops to be based in our country?” he questioned. “Military Attaches are all right, but foreign troops are not permitted. Foreign military can be here only as military attache.”

The prime minister noted that, whenever there is construction of an airport with support from China, “some analysts” always remark that the facility is primarily for use of Chinese military.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport under construction on Sunday. SPM

“I think the analysts will not go too far [in their careers]. Whenever they see that we have any projects with China, they always say it is merely for [use of] Chinese troops.

“Some of these analysts are Cambodian. Others are foreigners. Either way, it seems as if they are becoming stupider,” he said. “If we are talking military strategy, why don’t they [Chinese military] just land at the existing airports?”

Hun Sen also hit back at critics who said that Dara Sakor International Airport in Koh Kong province was built to “receive” Chinese military.

“Are you crazy? If they need, why don’t they just land at Kong Keng airport [in Preah Sihanouk province] right away? It would be easier for them,” he said. “Just put a little thought into it. If you want to slander us, then realistically any airport in Cambodia can receive Chinese military.”

The construction of Dara Sakor Airport in Koh Kong province and the upgrade of Ream Naval Base in neighbouring Preah Sihanouk have been the subject of international criticism, with critics and even US officials alleging that Cambodia has granted exclusive rights to China to maintain a military presence there. But Cambodia noted it had rejected such claims on many occasions and would stand firm on their denial.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said that Hun Sen’s remarks during his visit to the airport showed his frustration with “baseless accusations” which have been made occasionally, alleging that Cambodia permits foreign military presence in the Kingdom.

He said that, no matter how clearly Cambodia had explained it, the suspicions about the foreign military base seem not to have been cleared.

“The suspicion about Chinese military bases in other countries is a message that has been prepared to prevent any attempt by China to expand their military base in Southeast Asia. This is actually the US’ [concocted] scenario.”

“It is a geopolitical game between China and the US. The US speaks out to prevent such suspicion from becoming reality. Whether true or not, it is just a preventative measure,” he said.

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