Cambodia’s Ream naval base attracts competing patrons

Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base — a facility in the Gulf of Thailand — has in recent years been the subject of interest from major powers competing for influence in Southeast Asia. China’s efforts to access the base first surfaced in July 2019 after the Wall Street Journal reported an alleged agreement allowing the Chinese military to use the base. The Cambodian government facilitated a visit to the naval base for 70 local and foreign journalists to counter the findings of the report.

Despite Cambodia’s efforts to dispel allegations of a Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base, suspicions continued to mount. Following US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to Phnom Penh in 2021, the Cambodian government agreed to a visit by the Cambodia-based US Defence Attaché. But the visit marked a downward trend in US–Cambodia relations as the US Embassy in Phnom Penh claimed that Cambodian military officials refused full access to the base.

A Cambodian defence official, interviewed under Chatham House Rules, provided a counter-narrative on the US visit. In response to Sherman’s request, the Cambodian government formed a Coordination Working Group to meet the US Defence Attaché’s requirements. The visit included a one-hour meeting, visits to newly constructed buildings, an Australian-supported naval workshop and the construction of the new Tactical Command Headquarters at Koh Preab.

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