Excerpt of Cambodian PM’s Statement on Issue of Ream Naval Base

AKP Phnom Penh, October 05, 2020 —

The following is the excerpt of the statement of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, at a gathering of civil servants and technical teams for road infrastructure construction at Preah Sihanouk province on June 1, 2020, made public this morning by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation:

“Today, I need to make it very clear, once and for all, on the issue of Ream naval base. A few weeks ago, there was a message from an Ambassador claiming to have learnt that we had given the exclusive right to China to use Ream naval base, and that Prime Minister Hun Sen had no knowledge about this deal made by Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh. I wish to convey this message in response, ‘everything in Cambodia must be reported to the Prime Minister’. There is no authorisation to allow any foreign country to use our military base in violation of our Constitution. As already done time and again, I wish to re-emphasise that, as an independent and sovereign country, Cambodia does not align itself with one side against another. Cambodia allows neither foreign military base on its territory, nor its military base on foreign soil, except under the United Nations’ umbrella.

We have the right to do what we desire, such as in the relocation of our Maritime Centre, which has been recommended after a study. Far from closing it down as alleged, we would like to invite all interested foreign friends to contribute funding to the Centre. We welcome assistance from the USA, France, Japan, China and others.

Our plan to have a dockyard is not a new issue at all. I asked for a dockyard to be built since the time of the State of Cambodia, after noting that Cambodian rusty fishing boats were sent for repair in Thailand. We had to get our combat-vessels fixed in Vietnam and at one time as far as in Malaysia. Now, do we not have the right to get our own dockyard to repair our combat-vessels or transport vessels of our people? The dockyard cannot be seen as a Chinese construction because it is funded by China. Frankly speaking, we need Chinese financing to build it. However, we would welcome funding from all interested parties.

On access to Ream naval base, I wish to declare that we welcome ships from all countries including the USA, France, Canada, India, UK, Japan, Australia, and not just from China, to make port call or to participate in joint exercises with Cambodia. It is baseless to assert that Cambodia has given China 50 to 90 years exclusive rights to the base.

I wish to send the following message to all interested parties:

1. We invite contribution from any interested party for developing the Sihanoukville port and naval port. We are open to participation in the development of our Maritime Centre at the new location. The old and the new sites are not different, all are within our Master Plan.

2. We will build a dockyard open to all foreign vessels that need to be serviced, and not just those from China.

3. In the meantime, we welcome whoever wishing to cooperate in conducting joint naval exercise on combating terrorism, human and drug trafficking and smuggling. Joint exercises on disaster relief and rescue can be conducted both on land and at sea. What I do not wish to have is an offensive exercise to destroy adversaries.

I hope it is now clear with this statement. What benefit would China gain from having its navy ships based in Kampong Som (Preah Sihanoukville), when they are already in the South China Sea? Does China need to have its base in Thailand? Now, Myanmar is also being accused of allowing China to use its port for military purpose. Earlier, it had been alleged that Darasakor would become a clandestine Chinese port-cum- airport; and now, Kampong Som has been named. A few days ago, there was an allegation that Koh Rong would be used as a Chinese airfield. Why is it such a fad to paint Cambodia black?

I wish to reaffirm Cambodia’s commitment to an independent, neutral and non-aligned policy. If one foreign navy ship can make a port visit here, then ships from other countries can do the same.

We do not close our port to anyone. We welcome and are open to all countries wishing to conduct joint exercises in Cambodia, but that is not possible now, until the problem of Covid-19 is over.”

By C. Nika