Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had sent diplomatic notes to various embassies demonstrating its stance and clarifying allegations that the Kingdom is a satellite country of China which will allow it exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.
The response came a day after the Secretariat of the National Committee for Maritime Security (NCMS) issued a statement reaffirming the Kingdom’s commitment to close cooperation with all international partners in enhancing the capabilities of the Tactical Command Headquarters (TCH).
Located at the Ream Naval Base, the TCH – which was repaired by the US and has been recently dismantled – is slated to be moved about 30km away to Koh Preap.
Speaking during the inauguration of the Prince Manor entertainment centre in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district on Wednesday, Hun Sen said some believe that Cambodia is China’s satellite country because it has provided aid for building infrastructure.
“[When] some people see China build roads, provide grants and loans to Cambodia to build roads, they say that Cambodia is a satellite country of China, and that Cambodia chooses China over this superpower or that superpower. But I want to ask them – if China doesn’t build this road or this bridge, who builds it instead?” Hun Sen said.
He emphasised that if anyone could prove that other countries can do it instead of China, he would step down from this position. He said while some roads and bridges were built by Japan and South Korea, China has built thousands of kilometres of roads in the country.
Regarding the Ream base, the prime minister said: “The one bad thing being said is that Cambodia has become China already. These last few days, Cambodia was alleged to have handed the Ream [naval base] to China for exclusive use.
“I am forced to replay what I said in Preah Sihanouk province in July, have it translated into English and let the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation send diplomatic notes [containing the remarks] to all embassies. Hun Sen said this – why you say I want to make the Ream military port an international port?
Hun Sen made it clear that Cambodia had allowed ships of various countries to use the Ream military port, though they have to request prior permission because the port is for military use, not a freight port.
“Any country can ask for permission to dock their ships to be refuelled or to land to conduct a drill with Cambodia or do other works with Cambodia. We welcome them,” he said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Koy Koung confirmed that the diplomatic notes containing Hun Sen’s remarks were sent to all embassies in Cambodia on Tuesday.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said on Wednesday that the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and Cambodia’s Constitution guaranteed Cambodia’s neutrality. It also banned army bases and the presence of foreign forces on Cambodian land.
He said it is proper for the government and the co-chairs of the Paris International Conference on Cambodia including France and Indonesia to set up a neutral committee of Cambodia. This committee, he added, is to be tasked with examining the implementation of the conditions and terms of the agreements on neutrality focusing mainly on the ban on military bases and foreign army presences in Cambodia.
“I believe that this initiative will be effective to quash every scepticism regarding this issue,” he said.
But Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the allegation that Cambodia is providing the base to the Chinese military will have further ramifications because it is politically motivated. The government’s response is warranted but will not necessarily make a difference, he said.
“I find that the confirmation by the government is clear enough. But because this allegation is political in nature, even if we have clarity and confirmation, their scepticism cannot be quashed. What they want to see is Cambodia not having any relations with China whatsoever. Then they would run out of scepticism. What we can do is reiterate our stance,” he said.
Jem Sok, a political analyst in the US, said geopolitical issues in Asia revolve around the “belt and road” economic plan of China. He said China wanted to take the Gulf of Thailand as a base supporting a logistic port of its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The US, he added, believes that in the southern region of Vietnam, from sea tributaries to the Gulf of Thailand, only Cambodia can become a military port for the PLAN to dock and repair ships.
“America is not happy when China establishes or repairs buildings for Cambodia [because they believe] they can be bases supporting logistics for the PLAN. Beyond Cambodia to the Gulf of Thailand in the west of Thailand is the Andaman Sea.
“America has tried to mobilise pressure so that there will not be a logistic port that can be used by the PLAN. From the west of Thailand to Myanmar, America doesn’t want [China] to have a naval logistic port,” he said.
Sok said Hun Sen’s remarks regarding giving permission to foreign ships to be docked at the Ream Naval Base were strategic because they have to request docking first.