In June 2022, several media reports announced that China was opening a military base at Cambodia’s Ream naval base located on the southern tip of Cambodia close to the contested waters of the South China Sea. Cambodia has already used Chinese funding to modernise and expand the Ream naval base. The reports claimed that a secret deal had been signed between Cambodia and China, giving the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) exclusive access to part of Ream.
Both Cambodia and China denied such reports. Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said that the country’s constitution strictly forbade hosting foreign troops in its territory. Time will tell whether China will establish such a base in Cambodia.
The more interesting question is the potential strategic implications of a Chinese base in southern Cambodia. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated US concerns over the ‘construction of such facilities’. While the United States has not elaborated on the threat that a Chinese naval base at Ream may pose, most analysts argue that it would increase the PLAN’s ability to operate in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.