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PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen on Mar. 16 strongly rebuffed repeated allegations over the development of Ream Naval Base, calling it a smear campaign aimed at damaging Cambodia’s image ahead of the July election.
Cambodia has been under consistent criticism over the development at the naval base off its coast by China with western countries accusing Cambodia of having agreed to let China deploy troops there.
Construction started in June last year with Chinese assistance.
Addressing a graduation ceremony, Hun Sen said construction would continue no matter what.
“We also need to strengthen our naval capacity. It was not easy to get China to provide funds to develop the base. Cambodia has the right to get assistance from others,” the PM said, adding that the water at the base is only 2.7 meters deep and can accommodate only small patrol vessels. It needs to be developed for larger ships to dock.
“China is not stupid enough to take over a port in Cambodia and put an aircraft carrier there,” he said.
He said that after dredging and completion of the port and a new building, Cambodia will welcome all foreign ships to dock without discrimination and will have exercises with relevant partners.
He said the government could not violate its own laws prohibiting foreign troops from being stationed in the country.
The PM also compared the issue with the nuclear-powered submarines involved in the AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. He said the alliance had explained to ASEAN member states that there will be no nuclear weapons on the submarines.
He said he told the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia in a recent meeting that he accepted the explanation but also asked for reciprocal acceptance over the Ream base.
“You have been trying to explain to ASEAN countries. You said it is not nuclear weapon, just nuclear-powered submarine. Why when you explain to us we accept but when I explain to you, you don’t get it?” he said without naming countries.
He said the development of Ream base is to strengthen the capacity of the Cambodian Navy to crack down on transnational crimes such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, illegal fishing and to defend national sovereignty.
Hun Sen then warned that ASEAN member states are considering the submarine plan and that Cambodia could block ASEAN from reaching consensus.