Cambodia denies secret deal with China on naval base

Kyodo News

Posted at Jul 22 2019 09:03 PM

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen. Samrang Pring, Reuters/File Photo

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen denied Monday his government made a secret deal with China to allow Chinese armed forces to use part of the country's sole naval base.

"This is the worst fictional news against Cambodia. No such thing happens because foreign military bases are against the Cambodian Constitution," Hun Sen told local wire service Fresh News.

"We have never held any (such) talks with Chinese leaders, nor have we signed a deal," he added.

Hun Sen was speaking a day after The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. and allied officials, reported that China and Cambodia signed a "secret agreement" earlier this year giving Chinese armed forces exclusive rights to part of Cambodia's Ream Naval Base, located on the country's southwestern coast near Sihanoukville.

It cited an early draft of the agreement, seen by US officials, as saying China would be allowed to use the base for 30 years and post military personnel, store weapons and berth warships.

It is not the first time that Hun Sen and his government have denied such reports, with Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat calling them "groundless."

Last month, a senior US Defense Department official wrote a letter to Cambodia's Defense Ministry voicing concern over future plans for the base, including the possible hosting of Chinese military facilities.

Noting China's already high level of economic and political influence in Cambodia, Joseph Felter said in the letter, "Any steps that weaken Cambodia's independence or open the door to a foreign military presence in Cambodia would be of serious concern to the United States and could threaten the credibility and centrality of ASEAN."

Felter, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, was referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Cambodia is a member.