China's plans for naval base in Cambodia confirmed

Deepwater base to expand China's military presence in region

Ream Naval Base (Screenshot of Cambodia Defense Ministry video)

Ream Naval Base (Screenshot of Cambodia Defense Ministry video)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Cambodia is going forward with plans to allow China to build naval facilities on its southern coast in 2020, according to a high-ranking officer of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, extending the reach of the PLA Navy as it contests U.S. military dominance in the Pacific.

Brigadier General Joel B. Vowell said on Aug. 15 that U.S. Army sources had confirmed construction of facilities for the PLA Navy will begin next year at Cambodia's Ream Naval Base, according to Voice of America (VOA). The deal, which was brought to light last month by the Wall Street Journal, will reportedly permit China to erect buildings on the site, which it can then use for 30 years and renew every 10 years thereafter.

The Cambodian government has denied any such arrangement is to take place. Its prime minister, Hun Sen, said the Southeast Asian nation's constitution expressly forbids it from hosting foreign militaries, said Reuters.

Nevertheless, Vowell expressed his confidence that the intelligence is correct. "Ask them to take you on [a tour] in May of next year, and see what's been built. I'm almost positive it [won't] have a Cambodian or U.S. flag on it. It'll have a Chinese flag," he said.

Cambodia recently turned down a U.S. offer to conduct repairs on Ream Naval Base, sparking suspicion that an agreement with China might be forthcoming. The base has previously facilitated joint U.S.-Cambodia naval exercises.

Following the rejection of American aid, Deputy Defense Secretary for South and Southeast Asia, Joseph Felter, penned a letter conveying his concern. Vowell stated that the U.S.'s next move is contingent on Cambodian leadership's response.