United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last week welcomed Cambodia’s denial of reports that the Kingdom agreed to host Chinese military facilities at Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.
Speaking at the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand on August 1, Mr Pompeo said he acknowledged Cambodia’s strong protection of its national sovereignty and called on other countries to protect their sovereignty against China’s militarisation.
“Cambodia refuted reports that it is allowing a Chinese military installation to be built on its territory,” he said. “The United States welcomes Cambodia’s strong defence of its national sovereignty, and we encourage other nations in the region to follow Cambodia’s lead in protecting it.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Friday that he thanked Mr Pompeo for providing justice to Cambodia.
“He has provided justness to Prime Minister Hun Sen who has sacrificed himself in protecting national sovereignty, making friends with other countries, and has never interfered in other countries’ internal affairs,” Mr Siphan said.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal published a report alleging that a secret deal had been struck between the two nations for China to use the base, an allegation vehemently denied by both countries.
“The pact–signed this spring but not disclosed by either side–gives China exclusive right to part of a Cambodian naval installation on the Gulf of Thailand, not far from a large airport now being constructed by a Chinese company,” the Journal said in its report.
In a bid to clear the air over the alleged secret agreement to have China use the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province, the Defence Ministry took dozens of journalists to tour the site.
Some 70 local and foreign journalists were given a tour of the base, where no signs of Chinese nationals or warships were seen.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said that it was a positive sign that the US’ top diplomat supported the stance of the Royal Government, noting that the US has seemingly changed its approach in maintaining relations in the region.
“First, it clearly demonstrates there was a suspicion of having a Chinese military base in Cambodia,” Mr Phea said, noting on the acknowledgement. “Second, it is a good sign on improving relations between Cambodia and the US.”
“It seems that the United States has changed its strategy, because if the US continues to pressure Cambodia, then it will push Cambodia closer to China,” he said. “The US does not want China to have full influence over the regions of Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific.”
General Chhum Sucheat, National Defence Ministry spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
However, last week he told journalists during the tour of the base that what the Journal reported was misleading.
“You journalists are our ears and nose. You can see we here have nothing to hide from foreigners who accused us of [the deal with China],” Gen Sucheat said at the time. “Although this military area is controlled by the RCAF, we cannot hide anything because there are satellites.”
“Here is out territory,” he added. “We do not allow any foreign military [forces] to be stationed.”
Ket Sophann, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, could not be reached for comment yesterday.