Phnom Penh, 8 June 2021: It’s a new day for Cambodia-U.S military cooperation. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Mr. Tea Banh, met with both the outgoing and incoming U.S Chiefs of Staff in Phnom Penh late on Monday. They have reportedly agreed to work more closely together once the redevelopment of Ream Naval Base has been completed. Cambodia has already granted a request from the United States to visit the base for a “fact-finding mission”, although a date for that visit has yet to be set.
During Monday night’s meeting, Cambodia thanked the U.S for its assistance in the past with military training and asked for that to resume, with Covid-19 having disrupted plans over the past two years. Just last week, the outgoing U.S. Defence attaché Colonel Marcus Ferrara, introduced his replacement, Aries Refugio, to the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, General Vong Pisen, during a courtesy call in Phnom Penh. That visit came three days after U.S Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Parliament.
Military ties between Phnom Penh and Washington have been strained in recent months, chiefly over the redevelopment of the Ream Naval Base and its surrounding port. The US has accused Cambodia of allowing China to build its own military base on the Gulf of Thailand.
Cambodia has repeatedly reassured U.S officials that China has merely funded the port’s redevelopment; that the base remains under Cambodian control and that any country in the world will be welcome use to the base once the redevelopment has been completed.
During Monday night’s meeting, Cambodia’s Defence Minister expressed the hope that the U.S would hold joint military exercises with the Royal Cambodian Navy just as soon as that was feasible.