Shangri-La Dialogue: Cambodia defends building of Ream naval base

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said Cambodia needs the capability to protect its maritime space and maritime territorial integrity. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh on Saturday (June 11) defended his country’s building of the Ream naval base - which has attracted criticism for receiving funding from China - reiterating that it is not for China’s exclusive use.

Speaking at a plenary session during the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference, General Tea Banh said Cambodia is an independent and sovereign state that has the “full right to decide its destiny”, as stated in its Constitution.

“Unfortunately, Cambodia is constantly accused of giving exclusive rights to foreigners to use this space. I would like to emphasise that such groundless and problematic accusations are a complete insult to the authority and the governance of Cambodia,” he told the audience at the Shangri-La hotel.

“Once again, I would like to assure that Cambodia is definitely the owner of the Ream naval base, and that the development of this base is not a threat to the security of any country or region whether near or far.

“We consider these allegations as an excuse to undermine Cambodia’s interests,” said Gen Tea Banh, who spoke at the session titled Military Modernisation And New Defence Capabilities, alongside his counterparts from Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Washington Post, citing unnamed Western officials, said in a report last week (June 6) that a new facility at the Ream base - located in the Gulf of Thailand - was being built for the “exclusive” use of the Chinese navy.

Both Beijing and Cambodia have denied this charge.

The base has been a running sore spot in United States-Cambodian relations for years, with Washington long suspecting it is being converted for use by China as it seeks to buttress its international influence with a network of military outposts.

Responding to questions from the audience about the project, such as whether any conditions were imposed by China, Gen Tea Banh, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said Cambodia needs the capability to protect its maritime space and maritime territorial integrity, even though it does not have a large territorial sea.

The development of facilities such as a repair workshop, pier and dry dock should not be surprising, he added.

However, what seems to be surprising for many people is that Cambodia has received grant aid from China, he noted.

“But I think that should not be surprising. And it has been reinterpreted as giving exclusive use to China, and I would like to deny that - this is not true.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.