Cambodian defence minister Tea Banh took great pains this month to convince western military officials and diplomats that China was not building a military base in his country. His remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum matched Beijing’s insistence that the People’s Liberation Army is not trying to build a global network of bases.
But the US and its allies are unpersuaded. Derek Chollet, a top US state department official, said Washington was “convinced” China was building a base at Ream on Cambodia’s Gulf of Thailand coast. “We have indications that China is seeking an exclusive military facility,” Chollet said in an interview.
Over the past year, alarm bells have rung every few months in the US and among its allies over alleged Chinese plans for new military bases. But paradoxically, fears about the PLA acquiring a global footprint and China’s denials that it is building many bases may both be justified.