Bangkok Desk, Jun 8 (EFE).- Cambodia’s foreign minister has slammed as “groundless accusations” reports that China is building a secret military base in his country amid rising tensions between Western powers and Beijing.
Prak Sokhonn said that the country’s constitution did not permit the presence of a foreign military base on Cambodian soil.
He made the remarks in a statement issued late Tuesday after discussing this and other matters with his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong.
Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh and the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, on Wednesday presided over a ceremony to inaugurate the China-funded renovation of the Ream naval base in the south of the country.
The Cambodian foreign minister added that renovation of the Ream naval base “served solely to strengthen the country’s naval capabilities to protect its maritime integrity and combat crime.”
He also mentioned an invitation to foreign defense attaches in Phnom Penh to visit the base as a “good gesture.”
Australia has been among the first countries to express concern at an exclusive report on Monday by The Washington Post, which states that China is building a secret naval facility in Cambodia.
The article, citing Western officials, claims that the Ream naval base, located in Sihanoukville province, will be exclusively used by the Chinese army.
However, a Chinese official reportedly told the newspaper that the Chinese army would use only part of the facility.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, at his daily press conference on Tuesday, underlined that Cambodia had said its constitution does not allow foreign countries to build military bases on their soil.
There have been several reports in recent years about Beijing’s alleged military plans in Cambodia, which both countries have denied.
China has only confirmed the existence of a base in Djibouti in East Africa.
The United States expressed “serious concern” about the presence of Chinese troops in this Cambodian base in June last year during a visit by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to the country.
The Ream naval base is located on the Gulf of Thailand, a strategic location that would allow China to strengthen its control in the waters of Southeast Asia, whose sovereignty it disputes with several countries in the region including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday that his government had been “aware” of China’s activity at the Cambodian base “for some time” and urged Beijing to be “transparent about its intent.”
The revelations come after an escalation in tension between China and Australia due to Beijing’s expansion in the South Pacific islands, an area historically under the influence of Australia and New Zealand.
China has expressed a desire to sign a multilateral security and trade agreement with Pacific nations. EFE