Are cosier China-Cambodia ties a sign Beijing’s plan to set up military bases overseas is gathering steam?

Experts say China has a strategic interest in having more such bases worldwide, not just to project military power but also to safeguard its global interests. But while Beijing may be exploring this route in response to US-led efforts to counter its influence, the path to a network of outposts abroad is hardly straightforward.

“Steel-like.” That was the expression China’s Ministry of National Defence spokesperson Wu Qian used last month, for the first time, to describe the friendship between Beijing and Phnom Penh, according to a report in nationalistic Chinese tabloid The Global Times.

To many observers, that reference to the relationship between China and Cambodia raised concerns that Beijing might have made further progress in setting up a permanent military presence at the Ream Naval Base in the Southeast Asian nation.

Though long denied by Phnom Penh, the rapid construction this year of two buildings at the base – just north of where United States-funded facilities were demolished last year – has raised concerns that China stands to benefit from the upgrades.

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