Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said on Tuesday that he did not understand the response from the US after the Kingdom declined an offer to help repair the Ream Naval Base.
Cambodia had explained to the US that such assistance was unnecessary because it planned to move its main naval base to a different area to increase capacity, he said.
Banh’s remarks came after Joseph Felter, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia, requested Cambodia explain its refusal to accept the US offer to help repair the naval base.
This had fuelled speculation about future plans for it, including the possible hosting of Chinese military facilities.
Banh told The Post on Tuesday that despite the Ministry informing the US many times of its position, it remained unsatisfied, claiming it had not received clarification and accusing Cambodia of planning to allow China to build facilities.
“We plan to move to a different site to increase the capacity of our naval base. The US wanted to help us repair the Ream Naval Base. Why they planned to do so, we don’t know."
“They have accused us of rejecting their offer, but in fact, we replied that it is not necessary to make such repairs as we will move to another site."
“They don’t want to accept what I have made clear. They just want to repeat what they have said over and over again for years – that Cambodia plans to permit China to build a naval base. They sent a letter speculating about it."
“We have made a series of replies that our constitution does not allow any foreign country to build a military base in Cambodia, but they do not listen to us and they still think that we [plan to permit China to build a military base]. They said we are moving to allow in the Chinese military,” Banh said.
He also denied that a Chinese military base was being built in Koh Kong, reiterating that the constitution does not allow foreign nations to construct military bases in Cambodia.
“They have accused us of this. They have made this allegation of a Chinese base in Koh Kong to the extent that they accused [a] company of building an airport and seaport to conceal it,” Banh said.
US embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg on Tuesday said recent developments have fuelled speculation about Cambodia’s future plans for the Ream Naval Base, including the possible hosting of Chinese military facilities.
She said that given the high level of Chinese economic and political influence in Cambodia, it was a real concern and she urged the Cambodian leadership to maintain its constitutional commitment to an independent foreign policy and actively protect Cambodia’s independence for future generations.
“Any steps that weaken Cambodia’s independence or open the door to a foreign military presence in Cambodia would be of serious concern to the US and could threaten the credibility and centrality of Asean,” she said.
Felter’s letter to Banh reflected concern in Washington over the Chinese military presence in Southeast Asia, Reuters reported on Monday.
The former had asked for more information on the decision to decline help in repairing a training facility and boat depot at Ream Naval Base.
“The notification letter of June 6 has been seen throughout the US government and is fuelling speculation that this sudden change of policy could indicate larger plans for changes at Ream Naval Base, particularly ones that involve hosting Chinese military assets,” said the letter.
Reuters added, however, that Felter’s letter gave no details of any such plans.