On Monday, Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, pushed back directly on the notion that the Chinese government had — or would be — receiving exclusive rights to have its military access facilities on his country’s soil. The Cambodian leader’s comments came after months of scrutiny of the matter and focused specifically on the question of whether the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy would be first in line to use a naval base on Cambodia’s southern coast.
The base in question, the Ream naval base, is off the Gulf of Thailand and was the subject of a Wall Street Journal investigation last year, which alleged that Beijing “signed a secret agreement allowing its armed forces to use” the base. Senior U.S. officials have publicly and private expressed concern about potential Chinese basing on Cambodian soil, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence having sent a letter to the Cambodian prime minister in 2018 to express concern.
Hun Sen hasn’t been evasive on the question of basing and has taken it on head on previously. On Monday, he continued his denials, citing Cambodia’s constitutional restrictions on allowing for foreign military basing. “If one country’s warship is allowed to dock at our navy base, the other countries’ warships will be able to dock, too. We are not going to close it to anyone,” the Cambodian prime minister said.