Satellite images released in early-October revealed recent construction at Ream Naval Base on Cambodia’s Gulf of Thailand coast, part of a China-backed redevelopment plan. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported that over August and September, three new buildings had been constructed, while several areas had been cleared of foliage and a road was under development. The activity comes amid concern by the United States that Chinese activity at the base, where an US-built facility was razed in 2019, could be intended to enable a future Chinese military presence.
The Cambodian authorities maintain that the construction work, involving a newly-dredged port and ship-repair facility, is part of an expansion project in Cambodia’s national interest, while insisting that the Southeast Asian nation does not intend to play host to Chinese troops. Yet whatever the truth, or the strategic implications of a potential Chinese staging post on the Gulf of Thailand, the growing disquiet in Washington over the Beijing-backed upgrade of the base reflects a realization that there is very little the United States can do to avoid yielding influence to China in Cambodia.