A UK naval vessel with nearly 100 crew members onboard plans to dock for five days at the port in Preah Sihanouk province in early 2023 to strengthen the UK’s bilateral relationship and cooperation with Cambodia as part of the vessel’s UN patrol mission to guarantee the safety of marine routes.
“As planned, the UK Navy will dock a ship at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in February, 2023. We don’t yet know a detailed programme for the visit,” provincial administration spokesman Kheang Phearom told The Post on November 29.
British ambassador to Cambodia Dominic Williams met with Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun on November 28 to discuss the naval vessel’s visit.
According to a provincial administration press statement obtained by The Post on November 29, Chamroeun welcomed in advance the presence of the British navy and supported the UN mission it was carrying out.
The press statement quoted Jasmin Murray, the UK embassy’s military attache, as saying that the visit by the naval vessel in February would strengthen their bilateral ties and turn a new page on their relationship while helping guarantee the safety of marine routes.
“So, the ship that plans to dock in Cambodia, when compared to some naval ships, is rather small because it is a patrolling ship. We will work with relevant authorities on plans to have a sporting programme and a visit by crew members to an engineering school. The ship will dock in Cambodia for five days and will have close to 100 crew members with it,” Phearom added.
Chamroeun said at a meeting that Cambodia is a member of the UN and is ready to offer support to foreign naval vessels carrying out UN missions.
He noted that Cambodia has welcomed foreign ships this year from Japan, Thailand and Canada as well, whose navies all have good relationships with the Cambodian navy and have shared experiences to strengthen the Kingdom’s naval capacity and help with the development and modernisation of the Cambodian navy into the future.
He added that the US navy has also docked vessels several times at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, in some cases to carry out humanitarian work such as providing medical examinations and treatments for Cambodians on board.
Similarly, two Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force ships docked at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port for three days on March 15-17, 2022, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Japan’s peacekeeping operations in Cambodia.
In 2021, an Australian navy warship carrying nearly 160 crew members paid a three-day visit to Sihanoukville to symbolise Australia’s renewed commitment to Cambodia’s development and bilateral military cooperation between the two countries, and in 2019, three Chinese naval ships docked at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port for four days to strengthen bilateral military ties between the two countries.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post that the docking of the British naval vessel was a good opportunity to show Cambodia’s transparency on the issue of the alleged Chinese military forces at Ream Naval Base.
He said that it also highlighted the progress of relations between Cambodia and the UK, which have recently grown significantly following the UK’s exit from the EU, which has allowed it to chart its foreign policy course independently.
“This event will help to show that the previous allegations that Cambodia has military cooperation only with China and excludes the West is simply untrue.
“So, the presence of the British navy there also shows that Cambodia is interested in cooperation without discrimination, whether it’s with China, the US, Japan or in this case, the UK. We always aim for positive cooperation,” he said.
He added that the docking of the ship will contribute to the improvement of Cambodian-British relations and more or less show that the suspicions about Ream Naval Base are unfounded.