US Welcomes Cambodian Assurances on Reported Chinese Naval Base

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai at a press conference in Bangkok, Aug. 1, 2019.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai at a press conference in Bangkok, Aug. 1, 2019.

The United States has welcomed assurances by Cambodia that it will not permit China to construct naval facilities on its territory, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Bangkok on Friday following meetings of ASEAN foreign ministers in the Thai capital.

Cambodia denied reports of an agreement with China allowing the base during a Thursday U.S.-ASEAN ministerial meeting, Pompeo said during an Aug. 2 press conference held with Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai.

“The United States welcomes Cambodia’s strong defense of its national sovereignty, and we encourage other nations in the region to follow Cambodia’s lead in protecting it,” Pompeo said.

On July 21, a report in The Wall Street Journal cited U.S. and allied officials as saying that Phnom Penh and Beijing had signed a deal in the spring granting China access to part of Cambodia’s Ream Navy Base on the outskirts of the port city of Sihanoukville and near a large airport a Chinese firm is building.

If confirmed, the deal would provide China with its first naval staging facility in Southeast Asia, allowing it to significantly expand patrols in the South China Sea, where an ongoing standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in disputed waters led to two tense encounters earlier this month.

On July 22, though, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed reports that China had signed a deal allowing the base, saying such an arrangement had never been discussed and would be in violation of Cambodia’s constitution.

A diplomatic strategy

Writing on his Facebook page on Aug. 2, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan thanked Pompeo for what he called the U.S. diplomat’s fairness in accepting Cambodia’s assurances that no port deal with China had been signed.

Analysts meanwhile described Pompeo’s comments as a diplomatic strategy to ensure that Cambodia now keeps its word.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday, Cambodian Youth Network co-founder and vice president Sar Mory said he believed that the U.S. has remained suspicious about Cambodian intentions despite the country’s previous denials of a deal with China.

“So the U.S. welcomes Cambodia’s denial [made at ASEAN] now. This is nothing more than a diplomatic gesture meant to pressure Cambodia and hold it to its commitment,” Sar Mory said.

Also speaking to RFA, Finland-based political analyst Kim Sok said that Pompeo’s remarks were aimed at reminding Cambodia to protect its sovereignty against encroachments by Beijing, adding, “Cambodia must now adhere to its promise not to host a Chinese naval base and to respect its own constitution.”

Soured relations

Phnom Penh’s relations with Washington and other Western capitals have increasingly soured since late 2017, when Hun Sen launched a broad crackdown on the opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that included the banning of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the arrest of its leader for an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Cambodia’s government has since touted improved ties with China, which typically offers cash and diplomatic support without the conditions that the U.S. and EU place on support, such as improvements to human rights and rule of law.

In a press conference held in response to a July 30 U.S. Embassy statement noting the one-year anniversary of what it called last year’s “deeply flawed national elections in Cambodia,” government spokesman Phay Siphan told U.S. Embassy staff to “pack up and leave” if they are unhappy with conditions in the country.

His remarks came as the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of W. Patrick Murphy as the new U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, replacing outgoing Ambassador William Heidt. No word was yet available as to when Murphy will take up his new post in Phnom Penh.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Comments (6)


from Federal Way

Cambodia now does't have a legitimate government as a bogus unsupervised election last year 2018 was unconstitutional because of abolition of political party CNRP and imprisonment of it's leader Kem Sokha. It is currently run by a mafia group leaded by Hun Sen.

Aug 05, 2019 02:39 AM


from from the world

This planet is still stable and peaceful because every nation in this world is scaring with the nuclear bomb. Only Russia and US combination is over six thousands pieces with this toys in their hands, not including of fat man in North Korea, China, Iran, India, Pakistan......They can play with toy at any time when they need it that is why every nation has voice in the puppet UN house. Beside Nagasaki and Hiroshima the same kind was exploded and the same kind of destruction in Cambodia which was played by Pon Pot Khmer Rouge.
The man Hun Sen survive and now that why he can has strong voice with American.
However, the same kind of destruction but more powerful than A TOMIC BOMB which lead to Dega people disappears in Central Highlands of Vietnam. We call it " DEGA GENOCIDE" it explodes slowly, gradually but surely.

Aug 04, 2019 03:24 PM

World Watcher

from The World

I think Cambodia Words are Good as American Words. Cambodia learn very fast from American How they keep their words

Aug 03, 2019 11:51 AM

Anonymous Reader

Suddam Hun Sen knows how to lie straigh-faced. Never believe what he says.

Aug 03, 2019 07:35 AM


Secretary Pompeo's statement is little assuring because Hun Sen will figure out a way to let the Chinese occupy the base without "hosting" them legally. He just paid over $45 mm in Chinese made weapons which will most likely be housed at the Ream base and Chinese military will have to train their Cambodian counterparts to use it. How long will they stay, my guess will be 30 years per their secret agreement. That is a lot of training! We can only hope that these weapons will fall apart but then Hun Sen will just buy more and request more "training".

Aug 02, 2019 08:15 PM

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