‘US renders justice to Kingdom on Chinese military presence’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A military officer stands guard at the Cambodian Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province on July 26. Photo by Mech Dara

A senior Ministry of National Defence official and a government spokesman applauded US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s positive response to Cambodia’s denial of a Chinese Navy base on its territory.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok on Thursday, Pompeo welcomed Cambodia’s firm stance and hailed its commitment to protecting national territorial integrity.

“Cambodia refuted reports that it is allowing a Chinese military installation to be built on its territory. The United States welcomes Cambodia’s strong defence of its national sovereignty, and we encourage other nations in the region to follow Cambodia’s lead in protecting it.”

On July 21, the Wall Street Journal published a report based on unidentified US officials saying Cambodia and China had signed a secret agreement allowing the Chinese military to use Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.

This comes as Beijing pushes ahead with a plan to have its military stationed around the world, it said.

Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat and government spokesman Phay Siphan said Pompeo’s statement was an acknowledgement of the truth and a rendering of justice to the Kingdom.

“This is a positive response of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and I hope the US and other international media outlets will disseminate the truth and stop spreading fake news,” Socheat said.

Meanwhile, Siphan said Pompeo’s statement helped to end “confusion” and improve mutual relations. He said news of a Chinese naval base in the Kingdom was a smear campaign to cause animosity between Cambodia and the US.

“The statement by His Excellency Mike Pompeo opens a new chapter in the history of relations and collaboration between Cambodia and the US.

“It is crucial to ending incitement by individuals or groups who tried to cause hostility and confusion between Cambodia and the US for their political gain,” he said in a Facebook post on Friday.

He said Pompeo’s statement was also recognition of the efforts by Prime Minister Hun Sen in maintaining neutrality and protecting national sovereignty.

“I would like to thank Mike Pompeo and US citizens alike for placing a high value on the truth and peace as well as close relations between our two nations,” he said.

Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, agreed that Pompeo’s statement would help restore the recently strained bilateral relations.

“This is like pushing a boat along the water currents. If in the future there is a Chinese military installation in Cambodia as alleged, it would be Cambodia’s sole responsibility . . . If his statement was sincere and made in good faith, it is a boon that helps to restore relations,” he said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said it was too early for the government to interpret Pompeo’s statement as an acceptance of its denial.

“[Pompeo’s response] was nothing more than a message that he had heard [Cambodia’s defence]. It remains unclear if he believes the government. So the claims of a Chinese military installation on Cambodian territory still need to be proved to the contrary,” he claimed.

US embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg in Phnom Penh did not respond to The Post’s request for comment on Sunday.