China, Cambodia break floor on port, dismiss US considerations

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Chinese language and Cambodian officers broke floor Wednesday on a contentious naval port enlargement venture, dismissing American considerations it may present Beijing with a strategically essential navy outpost on the Gulf of Thailand.

Cambodian Protection Minister Tea Banh, Chinese language Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian and different officers donned white gloves earlier than turning over shovels filled with dust to launch the official “modernization” of the Ream Naval Base, which can embody a dry dock for ship repairs, an prolonged pier, a hospital, a workshop and a “reception building.”

Longtime authoritarian chief Hun Sen in 2019 reportedly granted China the proper to arrange a navy base at Ream, however has lengthy denied that, saying Cambodia’s Structure prohibits overseas navy amenities.

Dredging is already underway to permit bigger ships to make use of the port. Tea Banh instructed company, together with the U.S. protection attaché, that it will nonetheless solely be capable to accommodate ships of as much as 5,000 tons displacement — an enchancment from the present 1,000 tons however too shallow for all however the smallest of naval ships.

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“Please don’t be too worried about this Ream base,” Tea Banh mentioned, talking in entrance of an indication proclaiming the venture is being funded by “grant aid from the People’s Republic of China.”

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“This port is too small and even after upgrading it can’t be a port that would threaten any countries,” he mentioned.

Tea Banh mentioned he invited the U.S. and different overseas representatives to the bottom so they may see for themselves “there is nothing here,” although he added that when building is full the power will change into a restricted navy zone with no entry for overseas nations.

Cambodian navy troop members walk on the pier at Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, southwestern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 26, 2019. Cambodian officials broke ground Wednesday, June 8, 2022, on a naval port expansion project in Ream, dismissing American concerns it could provide Beijing with a strategically important outpost on the Gulf of Thailand. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

Cambodian navy troop members stroll on the pier at Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, southwestern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 26, 2019. Cambodian officers broke floor Wednesday, June 8, 2022, on a naval port enlargement venture in Ream, dismissing American considerations it may present Beijing with a strategically essential outpost on the Gulf of Thailand. (AP Picture/Heng Sinith, File)
((AP Picture/Heng Sinith, File))

Following the ceremony, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh reiterated American considerations {that a} Chinese language “military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security.”

“The U.S. and countries in the region have expressed concern about the lack of transparency on the intent, nature, and scope of this project as well as the role the PRC military is playing in its construction and in post-construction use of the facility,” embassy spokesperson Stephanie Arzate mentioned in an electronic mail to The Related Press.

Ream faces the Gulf of Thailand, adjoining to the South China Sea, the place China has aggressively asserted its declare to nearly the whole strategic waterway. The U.S. has refused to acknowledge China’s sweeping declare and routinely conducts navy maneuvers there to bolster that they’re worldwide waters.

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Tea Banh mentioned the port venture is anticipated to take two years to finish. He didn’t say how a lot it will price, however China has given Cambodia a whole bunch of tens of millions of {dollars} in grants in recent times for infrastructure tasks.

Chinese language Ambassador Wang mentioned the development will comply with a plan agreed upon by Hun Sen and Chinese language President Xi Jinping earlier this yr to “further promote the building of a community with a shared future with strategic significance.”

“China and Cambodia have become ironclad brothers, economical with words but generous in action, treating each other with all sincerity and standing side by side at challenging times,” he mentioned, in accordance with an English translation of his remarks offered by the Chinese language delegation.

Cambodian navy crew stand on a patrol boat at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 26, 2019. Cambodian officials broke ground Wednesday, June 8, 2022, on a naval port expansion project in Ream, dismissing American concerns it could provide Beijing with a strategically important outpost on the Gulf of Thailand. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

Cambodian navy crew stand on a patrol boat on the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 26, 2019. Cambodian officers broke floor Wednesday, June 8, 2022, on a naval port enlargement venture in Ream, dismissing American considerations it may present Beijing with a strategically essential outpost on the Gulf of Thailand. (AP Picture/Heng Sinith, File)
((AP Picture/Heng Sinith, File))

The U.S. in November sanctioned two senior Cambodian protection officers over allegations of graft linked to building financing on the Ream base, and Wang lashed out on the transfer, with out mentioning the US by title.

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“Some countries keep smearing legitimate exchanges and cooperation between China and Cambodia and arbitrarily impose unilateral sanctions on Cambodia under the false subterfuge of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights,’ blatantly interfering in Cambodia’s internal affairs through ‘long-arm jurisdiction,’” he mentioned. “We firmly oppose all these misbehaviors.”

He mentioned when accomplished, the bottom will likely be a monument to “the ironclad friendship and cooperation between the two militaries” of China and Cambodia.

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China solely operates one acknowledged overseas navy base, within the impoverished however strategically essential Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, however many consider that its Individuals’s Liberation Military is busy establishing an abroad navy community, even when it doesn’t use the time period “base.”

Beijing not too long ago signed a safety settlement with the Solomon Islands that has raised fears of a doable Chinese language outpost within the Pacific, and it has reached out to a number of different island nations within the area.

The U.S. has extra overseas navy bases than every other nation, together with a number of amenities within the Asia-Pacific area.

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