China’s latest foray into building up its presence in the South China Sea, a dual-use enlargement of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, part of its “String of Pearls” strategy to establish itself as a blue-water maritime power capable of challenging the US, is adding to concerns about Beijing’s expanding naval aggressiveness. Previous examples include the ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, both on the Indian Ocean which are either largely funded by, and/or controlled by Chinese state-owned companies.
On the ground, Cambodian locals have remarked on the increasing Chinese presence around the base as construction has intensified over the past year. Vietnamese officials have also described a sudden increase in Chinese movement of personnel and equipment into Ream since April, reflecting the overall growing influence of China in Cambodia as well. That has not only raised the eyebrows of the US but also of Cambodia’s neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam.