Cambodia denies deal to allow armed Chinese forces at its naval base

22 Juillet, 2019, 09:40 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

China has signed a secret deal to gain exclusive rights to a Cambodian naval base, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Hun Sen's denial came a day after the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous USA and allied officials as saying that China has signed a secret agreement allowing its armed forces to use Cambodia's Ream naval base. In January, Cambodian media speculated that a Chinese naval base on Cambodian shores would give Beijing access to a new flank in the contested South China Sea region, where China is engaged in a continuing row with the United States over freedom of navigation issues.

However, both Beijing and Phnom Penh have repeatedly denied that the deal has taken place, with a Cambodia government spokesperson dismissing the report as "fake news".

Although Chinese and Cambodian officials have denied the pact, the USA has expressed concern it will harm regional peace and security by providing China with a key site in its quest for a global network of military and dual-use facilities.

"This is the worst fabricated news against Cambodia".

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China, Hun Sen's strongest regional ally, has poured billions of dollars in development assistance and loans into Cambodia through bilateral frameworks and China's Belt and Road initiative.

The BRI was unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and aims to develop a sprawling network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

It has attracted a flood of Chinese commercial ventures in Cambodia, including casinos and special economic zones.

"We are concerned that any steps by the Cambodian government to invite a foreign military presence in Cambodia would threaten the coherence and centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in coordinating regional developments, and disturb peace and stability in Southeast Asia", the statement said.

Cambodia denied reports last November that Beijing had been lobbying the Southeast Asian country since 2017 for a naval base that could host frigates, destroyers and other vessels of China's People's Liberation Army Navy.

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