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Cambodia Celebrates Ground Breaking Ceremony Construction of Ream Naval Base Under the Watchful Eyes of Superpowers

SIHANOUKVILLE: The 'Ground Breaking Ceremony Construction Project for Dry Dock, Pier, and Slipway Rehabilitation in the Modernization Center of Ream Naval Base Under Grant Aid from the People’s Republic of China,' was officially inaugurated by the Minister of National Defense of Cambodia, DPM Tea Banh, and the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, this Wednesday morning, 8 June. The ceremony was also attended by dignitaries from various Embassies in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and many other guests.

The day before the groundbreaking ceremony, US State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price, while answering questions from reporters in Washington, D.C., responded to a question about the Ream Naval Base, and said “We, and countries in the region, have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency on the intent, the nature, the scope of this project, as well as the role that the PRC military is playing in its construction and in its post-construction use of the facility.”

Stephanie Arzate, a Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, told EAC News on Wednesday, 8 June, "As we have said, an exclusive PRC military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security.”

The case of the modernization center of the Ream Naval Base seems to have especially rekindled the interest of the United States, despite the fact that Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly allowed the military attachments of other countries to visit the Ream Naval Base. There is still much suspicion from the Western superpower and its allies.

According to an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald, on Tuesday, 7 June, Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, also recently expressed concern over the fresh claims that China is building a naval facility in Cambodia for the use of its military forces, calling on Beijing to be “transparent about its intent” for the base.

Speaking at the Ground Breaking Ceremony Construction Project for Dry Dock, Pier, and Slipway Rehabilitation in the Modernization Center of Ream Naval Base on Wednesday, 8 June, the Minister of National Defense, DPM Tea Banh, denied all allegations and said that the construction taking place at the Ream Naval Base is just to modernize the base within the sovereignty of Cambodia, and will not be the exclusive property of China. Cambodia has the right to manage any use or development of the base, while the Chinese government has provided grant support for these developments.

The Cambodian Defense Minister also stated, "On this occasion, there are also some diplomats and military attachés who previously had the opportunity to come here to see for themselves that the Ream Naval Base has nothing except for a small, shallow harbor with a water depth of 7 meters, which we need to restore and [fix], and [in its current state], the Cambodian ship sent for repairs cannot dock when it returns, and will have to anchor at sea. That is why we want a new port for the ship to dock."

During a telephone conversation between the Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs, DPM Prak Sokhonn, and the newly appointed Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, on Tuesday 7 June, the Cambodian Foreign Minister denied all allegations being made about the Ream Naval Base, saying there was no basis in the latest news being published by some international media.

DPM Prak Sokhonn reaffirmed to the new Australian Foreign Minister that Cambodia firmly adheres to its Constitution, which does not allow the base or presence of any foreign troops on Cambodian territory, and stated that the improvement of the Ream Naval Base is designed to strengthen the capacity of the Cambodian Navy to defend its maritime integrity and combat maritime crime.

In early June 2021, US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, paid a two-hour visit to Cambodia, where she also met with Prime Minister Hun Sen. During the meeting, she requested the Prime Minister to allow the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville. Just one day after her request, the Cambodian Ministry of Defense announced that it would allow the US Embassy in Cambodia to inspect the Ream Naval Base. During that same time, the US Defense and Army Attaché, Colonel Marcus Ferrara, was welcomed on his visit to the Ream Naval Base in cooperation with the Cambodian authorities.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously stated that any country in the world would be welcome to use the military base, including the United States, France, Canada, India, Britain, Japan, and Australia, and free to participate in joint exercises with the Royal Cambodian Navy. The Prime Minister also added that Cambodia welcomes all assistance offered from other countries to build local offices and develop ports.

In a press conference held on Wednesday morning, the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, said that the development of the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville acts as a model for cooperation between Cambodia and China, with respect to Cambodian law, the People's Republic of China, and also international law. He said this project is for the benefit of the two countries' relations and that any accusation made about China wanting to place a military base in Cambodia is foolish and wrong.

He said, "Speak honestly, which country has an army abroad, not China! And the one who is trying to increase their influence, prestige and power is not China. So, no matter how much pressure and challenges we face in the future, both countries will overcome those obstacles to protect their interests."

The Chinese Ambassador further stated that China does not want to rule over any country, and has its own traditional culture of "governing its own country and its own people properly, which is enough."

Defense Minister Tea Banh also told reporters at the groundbreaking ceremony this morning that the allegations made by the United States against Cambodia were repetitive and without any evidence related to the Ream Naval Base. He said there are two reasons why the West sees Cambodia in a negative light, because Cambodia becomes more prosperous, and because their influence is weakened in the region as well as in Cambodia.

The DPM said, "It must be understood that this is the sovereignty of Cambodia, the management, use or any development [within the Ream Naval Base] is the responsibility of the Kingdom of Cambodia. […] Their (American) story is non-stop! They are creating a series of provocations, there is nothing new at all."

The construction project for a new dry dock, pier, and slipway rehabilitation in the modernization center of the Ream Naval Base is under grant aid provided by the People’s Republic of China to the Cambodian Navy. The stated purpose of this project is to rehabilitate the existing naval base to a fort camp with a headquarters building, an all-purpose building, to build and expand one hospital, build a new dry dock and slipway rehabilitation center, build two other docks and restore the existing dams where the water depth is still shallow.

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