Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base Upgrade and Implications for Thailand

Should it eventuate, a Chinese naval presence on the Gulf of Thailand would place the country in a tricky position.

In discussions about the significance of the Chinese-funded modernization of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, which lies some 200 kilometers off Thailand’s east coast, the Thai perspective is very much overlooked.

Ream is, after all, popularly theorized as a potential second overseas outpost of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), one that is meant to be a gateway to the Indian Ocean, and will allow it to project power toward claimant states in the South China Sea, primarily Vietnam. Thailand, meanwhile, has no claims in the increasingly contested waters and enjoys friendly relations with China in all dimensions.

In particular, the year 2023 has seen thriving Sino-Thai defense cooperation. In addition to accepting the delivery of the Chinese-built amphibious assault ship in April, the Thai military welcomed a series of joint air, ground and naval drills with its Chinese counterpart during the third quarter. While these are established annual drills, their enlarging scope and complexity are worth observing. The growing attention to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense at sea is one interesting point.

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