TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A retired Indian Army colonel asserts that a massive "tourist" resort being built on Cambodia's southwest coast could be converted into a formidable naval base for Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) "overnight."
On the Indian news site ThePrint, Colonel Vinayak Bhat says that the Chinese company Union Development Group (UDG) is funding a US$3.8 billion tourism development called the Dara Sakor Seashore Resort Long Term Project along the coast of Cambodia's province Koh Kong. Bhat says that the sprawling "resort" covers a vast tract of 45,000 acres, about 20 percent of the province's coastline, that has been leased out for 40 years at the measly price of US$1 million per year.
In November of last year, a report by Asia Times alleged that China has lobbied Cambodia to allow it to set up a naval base in a port in Koh Kong, on the Gulf of Thailand. In December of last year, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen denied the report, claiming that the Cambodian Constitution does not allow any foreign military bases.
However, Naresuan University in Thailand International Affairs Professor Paul Chambers in March told This Week in Asia that senior Cambodian officials have "privately admitted that Hun Sen is considering approving a Chinese naval base there." On May 9 of this year, the U.S. web magazine War on the Rocks published a report in which it said that recent commercial satellite imagery shows that UDG has been:
"rushing to complete a runway in Cambodia’s remote Koh Kong province on the southwestern coast. It appears long enough to support military aircraft and matches the length of the runways built on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to support military reconnaissance, fighter and bomber aircraft.”
On May 11, Cambodia Defence Ministry spokesman General Chhum Sucheat took to Facebook to repeat the claim that the country's constitution prevents it from allowing foreign military bases and referred to such reports are "evil rumors." He claimed that the development of the resort is "contributing to the promotion and development of tourism, the economy, and trade in Cambodia" and that Cambodians are "happy that Chinese investors are confident about Cambodia’s stability," reported Khmer Times.
Runway similar in length to those seen on Spratley Islands. (EO Browser image)
Bhat says the massive scale of the resort far exceeds reasonable needs of tourists in what had been a sleepy town of Sihanoukville, previously only frequented by backpackers. The past three years have seen a sudden flood of investment from China, with Chinese high-rise hotels and resorts suddenly sprouting up along the coast.
The flood of Chinese into Cambodia could be attested to by a British tourist, who was savagely beaten at a bar in Sihanoukville for having "Taiwan" tattooed on his forehead and refusing to recognize that the country is part of China. The man was then detained by local authorities until he recounted his claims that he had been beaten by Chinese workers, before he was finally allowed to leave the country.
Bhat suggests that the "boom" in tourism is being funded by the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) to inflate the numbers of Chinese tourists in the area and justify the construction of so much infrastructure. Contrary to what Sucheat said about Cambodians being "happy about Chinese investors," Bhat says that on the ground, many local residents are left out of the boom because the hotels and casinos are only employing people of Chinese-origin and those who are fluent in Mandarin.
Kampot port. (Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) image)
Chinese company Guangxi Beibu Gulf International Port Group is working with local Cambodian firm Try Pheap Group on "feverishly" dredging out out a massive, deep sea port at Krong Kampot, according to Bhat. He says that satellite images reveal that the new port will include a container terminal that is nearly 5 km in length, as well as an oil terminal and cruise terminal on the other side.
Although the project had been hampered by many delays in the past, Bhat claims that work started picking up steam in 2017 after China's PLA took interest in the port. Meanwhile, satellite images show that construction has begun on another port 10 km to the north of the Dara resort.
He said that the new port appears to have a pier that is about 500 m in length and has a pier/breakwater that is approximately 900 m that could "host all kinds of ships, including naval ships." An area near the pier has also been cleared, possibly for support buildings, according to Bhat.
New port taking shape north of Dara. (Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) image)
Also part of the project is what is being dubbed an "international airport" with only a single airstrip that is approximately 3,200 meters in length and over 50 m in width. Like the War on the Rocks report, which compared the air strip's dimensions to those of Chinese bases in the Spratleys, Bhat said that the runway could accommodate large military aircraft.
Closeup view of airstrip. (Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) image)
Bhat concluded that the airstrip is 10 km from the main resort building, which could potentially act as a command and control center in the even the "resort" is converted into a military facility.