Cambodia Rejects Chinese Naval Base Allegations, but Suspicions Linger

Cambodian officials have vehemently denied allegations of hosting a Chinese naval base at the Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, despite recent reports of Chinese warships docking at the facility.

Chinese Vessels and Infrastructure

On June 16th and 18th, 2023, two Chinese warships, the Type 054A guided-missile frigate Yueyang and the Type 071 amphibious transport dock Wuzhishan, were spotted docked at the Ream Naval Base. Satellite imagery also revealed new infrastructure at the base, including a pier extension and dredged channels.

These developments have raised concerns among regional observers and Western governments, who suspect that China may be establishing a naval presence in the strategically important Gulf of Thailand.

Cambodia's Denial

Cambodian government spokesperson Phaen Khumri has categorically denied the presence of a Chinese naval base at Ream. He stated that the Chinese warships were on a "friendly visit" and that the construction at the base was intended to enhance Cambodia's own naval capabilities.

Khumri added that Cambodia's constitution prohibits foreign military bases on its territory and that the country is committed to maintaining its independence and sovereignty.

Regional Concerns

Despite Cambodia's denials, regional governments and international experts remain skeptical. They argue that the Chinese vessels and infrastructure at Ream are disproportionate to Cambodia's modest naval needs and could potentially be used for military purposes.

The allegations come at a time of heightened tensions between China and the United States over Taiwan and other regional disputes. The presence of a Chinese naval base in the Gulf of Thailand would give Beijing a strategic advantage in the region and potentially threaten the security of neighboring countries.

Strategic Implications

The Ream Naval Base is located on the southern coast of Cambodia, near the disputed Spratly Islands, a group of islands claimed by several countries including China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The base provides access to the South China Sea, which has become increasingly contested in recent years.

A Chinese naval presence at Ream would allow Beijing to project power in the South China Sea, monitor regional activities, and respond quickly to any maritime incidents. It could also be used to support Chinese military operations in Taiwan or other potential flashpoints.

US and Allied Concerns

The United States and its allies have expressed concern about the allegations of a Chinese naval base at Ream. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Cambodia in June 2023 and discussed the issue with Cambodian officials.

The United States and its allies view a Chinese naval presence in the Gulf of Thailand as a threat to regional stability and a violation of Cambodia's neutrality. They have called on Cambodia to clarify its intentions and to ensure that the base is not used for Chinese military purposes.

Cambodian Dilemma

Cambodia is caught in a difficult position between its close ties to China and its desire to maintain good relations with the United States and its allies. Cambodia relies heavily on Chinese investment and support, but it also values its sovereignty and independence.

Cambodia has attempted to balance its relationships with China and the West by maintaining a neutral stance on regional disputes and avoiding military alliances. However, the allegations of a Chinese naval base at Ream could force Cambodia to choose sides in the escalating rivalry between China and the United States.


The issue of a Chinese naval base at Ream Naval Base remains unresolved. Cambodian officials deny the allegations, but the presence of Chinese warships and infrastructure at the base has raised suspicions among regional observers and Western governments.

The allegations have strategic implications for the region, as the Gulf of Thailand is a key waterway connecting the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The establishment of a Chinese naval presence in the area would give Beijing a significant advantage in the region and could potentially destabilize the balance of power.

Cambodia faces a difficult choice in balancing its relations with China and the United States. The outcome of the Ream Naval Base issue will have implications for the future of the region and for Cambodia's own security and sovereignty.

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