China Won’t Use Ream Base, US Told

Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn meets with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington on May 11. Photo from Twitter

Minister cites constitutional ban

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia does not allow foreign troops to be stationed on its territory, the government has assured the US over claimed plans for Chinese forces to use Ream Naval Base.

“Cambodia adheres to her own constitutional principles in forbidding the presence of foreign military presence,” Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn told US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington on May 11.

During the meeting, Sherman expressed concern over the growth and the construction facilitation of the base in Sihanoukville as well as about Cambodia's democratic environment.

In July 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that China and Cambodia had a secret agreement for China's military to use part of the base, possibly helping China press disputed territorial claims and economic interests in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Hun Sen denied the allegation at the time, saying that this was the most fabricated news ever created against Cambodia. No such thing could happen because hosting foreign military sites was a violation of the Constitution.

In 2020, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a photograph claiming that the Cambodian government dismantled a structure built by the US at the base, causing more tension between Cambodia and the US.

The US sought many visits to the base in the southeast of Sihanoukville, the heart of China’s casino boom and a special economic zone run by China.

In December last year, Hun Sen directed Defense Minister Tea Banh to stop responding to any more requests to visit the base, saying it was not a place for robbers and criminals.

Prak Sokhonn, also Foreign Minister, told Sherman the action Cambodian had taken in allowing multiple base visits was unprecedented from any country’s military perspective.

“Through the painful experiences from the thirty years of conflict and genocide, Cambodia has taken a consistent approach to protecting peace, respect for international law and the UN Charter in the conduct of her foreign policy,” he said.

Hun Sen also said at a meeting with Khmer communities in Washington this week that the Constitution forbade the stationing of foreign troops in Cambodia.

Sokhonn defended Cambodia’s democracy in his meeting with Sherman. He said Cambodia has had regular elections since 1993 and that the elections were viewed by local and international observers as free, fair, transparent, peaceful and orderly.

These elections and the results had always represented multiparty liberal democracy, he said, adding that commune election on June 5 will provide a forum for 17 political parties.

Sherman spoke of US support for Cambodia's year as ASEAN Chair, praising Cambodia for assisting in the planning of the upcoming ASEAN-US Special Summit.

She also commended Prak Sokhonn for taking on the position of Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar, calling for open dialogue with all parties involved.

US President Joe Biden welcomed eight ASEAN leaders, including PM Hun Sen, to the White House on May 12. Biden discussed with ASEAN leaders the need for cooperation on security, prosperity and respect for human rights.

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