Minister: No foreign military allowed

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Cambodia finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth and Robert O’Brien, the US National Security Adviser during the virtual meeting on November 15. Finance Ministry

Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth reiterated that Cambodia would not allow a foreign military presence within its borders.

Pornmoniroth made the remarks as he represented Prime Minister Hun Sen during the 37th ASEAN Summit on November 12 and the 15th East Asia Summit on November 14, which were held online.

At the 37th ASEAN Summit, Pornmoniroth said: “To clear up doubts raised by sources accusing Cambodia of signing a deal allowing foreign military bases, Cambodia would like to state again that the government respects the Constitution and firmly adheres to the principles of independence and neutrality in defending the nation and sovereignty. It doesn’t have and will never allow any foreign military base on its territory.”

In July last year, The Wall Street Journal published an article quoting an anonymous US official who claimed that Cambodia had signed a secret deal granting the Chinese military exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base.

Robert O’Brien, the US National Security Adviser who also joined the 15th East Asia Summit, said the US remained concerned about the issue.

“The United States is also concerned about Cambodia’s plan to host a foreign navy and its personnel at Ream Naval Base in the Gulf of Thailand. A foreign naval presence in Cambodia would undermine the process of peaceful settlement of disputes, the promotion of maritime safety and security, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region,” O’Brien said.

In response to the concerns, Pornmoniroth said repeated allegations and the spread of baseless narratives can gravely undermine trust and sow discord between Cambodia and countries in the region.

“As I already clarified at the 37th ASEAN Summit, and as has been repeated by my prime minister, Cambodia does not have and will never allow any foreign military base on its territory. I want to reaffirm that the Cambodian government firmly adheres to the principles of independence and neutrality enshrined in the Constitution, which strictly forbids the presence of any foreign military base in Cambodia,” he said.

As a sovereign and independent nation with full territorial integrity under the rule of a legitimate government, and with equal rights as other nations, Cambodia has an inalienable right to improve its naval bases, ports or shipping facilities to meet modern demands following the country’s Constitution, he said.

Pornmoniroth added that it was precisely for this reason that the maritime centre at the Ream Naval Base needed to be relocated to a new site. Far from closing it down, Cambodia had invited all interested foreign parties to contribute in funding to the centre.

“We welcome assistance and continued assistance from the USA, Australia, South Korea, Japan, China and others as long as this does not prevent us from exercising our sovereign right,” he said.

Political analyst Ek Sovannara said even though the issue was confirmed at the regional meetings, the US’ doubt was not cleared up. The US had wanted the development to be transparent and wanted ties between Cambodia and China and relations between Cambodia and the US to be balanced.

“It takes time and other attitudes to clear up this doubt,” he said.

He added that if technical officials from the US and Cambodia cooperated, the doubt could be erased.