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Old 06-09-2021, 04:41 AM
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Exclamation US has 'serious concerns' about China's presence

Satellite photos show rapid construction at military base where - US has 'serious concerns' about China's presence
By: Christopher Woody - Insider News - 06-09-21

Photo link:
Sailors stand guard at Ream naval base in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

* The new buildings went up near the site of two US-built facilities that were suddenly demolished last year.

* The work has fed rumors of a looming Chinese military presence in an important part of Southeast Asia.

Two new buildings appear to have been built in a matter of weeks at Cambodia's Ream Naval Base, where that construction and demolition of US-funded buildings have raised concerns about a looming Chinese presence.

Satellite photos taken by Maxar and published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative show land clearing beginning sometime after April 17, construction starting in early May, and the buildings finished by May 21.

1st Satellite Photo:
Ream on May 21, 2021, after the new construction on the northern end of the base. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Maxar

The two buildings, both about 115 feet long and 20 feet wide, are located just north of the site of facilities built with US support that Cambodia's government demolished late last year.

Imagery previously published by AMTI, part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, showed that one US-built building, the Tactical Headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security, was torn down in September.

Another US-built facility, the Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat maintenance facility and a nearby boat ramp, was torn down in October.

2nd satellite photo:
Ream on December 19, 2020, after US-funded facilities were demolished. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Maxar

The ongoing demolition and construction has fed concerns about a secret deal purportedly signed by Cambodia and China in 2019 that would allow Beijing to station military personnel, store weapons, and dock warships at Ream for decades. The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power since 1985, have repeatedly denied such a deal exists.

In October, Vice Adm. Vann Bunlieng, deputy commander and chief of Cambodia's navy general staff, said a China-backed expansion at Ream was underway, with plans including dredging to deepen the waters around the base, which currently can only host smaller ships, such as patrol boats.

"The Chinese government helps us to build a port and repair facility for our ships," Bunlieng told Nikkei Asia, again denying reports that China's military would use the base.

3rd satellite photo:
Ream on July 23, 2020, with US-funded facilities still standing. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Maxar

Cambodian officials have said the tactical headquarters was being relocated in part so it can expand, but the island it is now on is "tiny," according to ATMI.

Cambodia's defense minister also said in October that the boat maintenance facility, which was completed in 2017, was moved to another location because "We can no longer keep it, and the building is already old."

"The breakneck pace of construction at Ream, lack of transparency, and shifting explanations from Cambodian officials continue to fuel suspicions that the upgrades there are intended for China's benefit as much as Cambodia's," ATMI said in its report.

'Serious concerns'

2nd Photo link:
The US-built Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat Ramp and Boat Maintenance Facility at Ream Naval Base shortly after it opened in July 2017. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific/Facebook

The new buildings were completed days before Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman arrived in Cambodia on the Biden administration's first high-level trip to the region.

In a statement about the visit, the State Department said Sherman "expressed serious concerns" about the Chinese "military presence and construction of facilities at Ream Naval Base."

Sherman "sought clarification on the demolition of two US-funded buildings at Ream without notification or explanation and observed that a [Chinese] military base in Cambodia would undermine its sovereignty, threaten regional security, and negatively impact US-Cambodia relations," the department said.

The US has previously inquired about China's presence at Ream. Hun Sen said in 2018 that then-Vice President Mike Pence had sent the Cambodian leader a letter "regarding concerns that there will be a China naval base in Cambodia."

Hun Sen rejected those concerns, citing a constitutional ban on foreign military presence. The US Defense Department raised the issue again in June 2019, after Cambodia suddenly declined US help to repair the facilities at Ream.

3rd photo link:
Cambodian sailors raise Cambodia's flag on a Chinese patrol boat during a handover ceremony at Ream naval base, November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Pentagon spokesperson John Supple told Insider on Monday that the Defense Department was "certainly aware" of the ongoing work at Ream and reiterated the concerns Sherman conveyed to Cambodian officials.

"The United States has serious concerns about the People's Republic of China's military presence and construction of facilities at Ream Naval Base," Supple said. "We encourage Cambodia's leadership to maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy, in the best interests of the Cambodian people."

Cambodia is one of China's closest allies in Southeast Asia, and China has provided billions of dollars in aid as well as political backing for Hun Sen in the face of Western criticism over the Cambodian leader's authoritarian actions.

Chinese firms have also leased large plots of land around at Ream, including for a nearby airport that a Chinese company is building and for development of a tourist resort in a nearby coastal area, for which Chinese firms have been dredging and reclaiming land work that could support future port infrastructure.

US officials have said an outpost in Cambodia would give China "a triangular perimeter" around Southeast Asia. A Chinese military presence at Ream could also give Beijing greater reach over important waterways connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Other countries, including the US, have similar capabilities in that region, but greater Chinese reach in the area would concern neighboring countries, particularly India, which is wary of China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean.


Personal note: The Chinese haven't been sitting and doing nothing over the years.
Their movements and building's have been wide spread. We had better have our
ducks-in-a-row as they are moving materials & troops all around plus building
bases and storage facilities in many areas around the globe. Something to
consider and more targets to his - if required?

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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