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US monitoring reports of Chinese warships at Cambodian base

US monitoring reports of Chinese warships at Cambodian base

WASHINGTON - The United States is monitoring reports of Chinese warships docking in Cambodia and has serious concerns about Beijing's plans to have exclusive control over parts of the main naval base there, a State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday that Chinese warships had arrived at Cambodia's Ream Naval Base and cited Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Seiha as saying in a Facebook post on Sunday that this was "in preparation for training" of the Cambodian Navy.

RFA said the warship visit coincided with meetings in Phnom Penh on Monday between Cambodia's leaders and He Weidong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, Beijing's top military command body.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington was monitoring the reports about the warships and added, referring to the People's Republic of China: "While we have no comment on this specific development, we have serious concerns about the PRC's plans for exclusive control over portions of Ream Naval Base."

The spokesperson said the United States was urging the Cambodian government to closely examine agreements its defense officials had made with Beijing to ensure China would not be allowed a presence or to position technology at Ream that would "undermine Cambodia's sovereignty, contravene its constitution, and affect regional stability."

RFA said it was unclear how many Chinese warships docked at Ream, but said images on Tea Seiha's Facebook page appeared to show at least two. It said satellite images from imaging company Planet Labs on Dec. 3 also showed two vessels, likely corvettes or frigates, docking at the new pier at the base.

Cambodia's decision to allow China's navy to develop the base at Ream has upset Washington and neighbors worried it will give Beijing a new outpost near the contested South China Sea.

The Pentagon believes the expansion plans for Ream include exclusive use of its northern portion for China's military and says neither country has shared full details about the extent of Beijing's plans to have a unilateral military base there.

Washington says this shows a lack of transparency.

Cambodia has dismissed fears that it would allow China a military base on its soil, saying any country could use the facilities at Ream, while Cambodia was open to accepting military assistance from anyone.

In 2020, Cambodia said it had razed a U.S.-funded facility at Ream to allow expansion there. — Reuters