In a report published on May 21 and updated a week later, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discovered on satellite images two

The buildings were built in the northern area where the US-funded facility was once located, which was demolished by Cambodian authorities in 2020, raising concerns that China could benefit from upgrading the naval base.

Satellite images show that ground leveling began after April 17, construction began in early May and was completed on May 21.

`The breakneck pace of construction at Ream and the lack of information raise concerns that upgrades at the base serve the interests of both Cambodia and China,` the AMTI report said.

This organization believes that this will be one of the issues raised by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman when she visits Cambodia.

The US-funded building area (below) in July 2020 and the newly built facility (above) on May 21.

Satellite photos taken last year showed US-funded facilities at the Ream naval base being demolished, raising concerns that Cambodia could allow Chinese military access to the site.

These concerns persist despite Cambodian officials repeatedly asserting that the US-funded demolition of the tactical command headquarters of the National Maritime Security Committee at Ream base is not related to any construction plans.

However, AMIT’s report said that the new tactical command headquarters of the Cambodian National Maritime Security Committee was built on the very small island of Koh Preab.

New construction causes skepticism at the Cambodian naval base

New buildings on Koh Preab island on May 3.

Bunna Vann, an expert at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said the new building at the Ream base was built with support from China, located in almost the same area where the old US-funded facility was demolished.

`This shows that China is a big driving force for Cambodia to demolish US-funded buildings, which could make Washington more uncomfortable with Phnom Penh and cause trouble for relations between the two countries,` Vann said.

Expert Sovinda Po of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace said that the timing of the completion of the construction project at the Ream naval base shows that Cambodia is `using China to bargain with the US`.

`On the China issue, Cambodia is likely to defend the position that it is not a proxy state or dependent on China. Cambodian officials will emphasize the country’s independent foreign policy and constitution.`

Expert Po said that Cambodia has recently been accused of `showing an overly friendly attitude` towards China and not taking into account US concerns, which makes Washington `feel uncomfortable`.

At the International Conference on the Future of Asia on May 20, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the question `If we don’t rely on China, who can we rely on? If we don’t ask China, then who should we ask?`, after calling out criticism.

New construction causes skepticism at the Cambodian naval base

Cambodian soldiers at Ream naval base in Sihanoukville.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce said last week that trade turnover with China reached 3 billion USD in the first 4 months of this year, up 19.7% over the same period last year.

During his trip to Southeast Asia, US Deputy Secretary of State Sherman is expected to reaffirm the US commitment to the central role of ASEAN and resolve bilateral and regional issues, including efforts to promote