The construction of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia

Dmitry Kosyrev

This would be very good news: the construction of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia, if it did not turn out – predictably – a fake. The material on this topic in The Washington Post was first denied by Cambodia (in a letter from the embassy to the newspaper), then China ( in a statement from the Foreign Ministry ). But, according to the experience of previous similar cases, no denials work on the Americans: if we said so, there will be a base.
In fact, this is a very interesting story – a persistent campaign dragging on for at least three years to early detect Chinese naval bases around the world. There is something like chasing a black cat in a dark room, if it is not there, with regular cries of “Here it is!” And it is clear that these cries simply would not have been heard. It’s not exactly idiocy, it’s a system.
The fact that Cambodia is giving part of the territory of its naval base to the Chinese (refusing the same to the Americans) was claimed back in 2019. Numerous publications, for example, in Foreign Policy magazine, attributed to Beijing “probable actions” to acquire such bases in the Solomon Islands, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania. Papua, Kiribati, Fiji and Vanuatu were also mentioned. Everything seems to be. Result: Chinathere is only one naval base overseas, in Djibouti, in existence since 2017. The United States has 800 (military experts specify: 804).
The logic of the compilers of such horror stories is invulnerable, even though their predictions fail over and over again.
For example, in the same Cambodia, we are told, Chinese sailors go either in local uniforms or in civilian clothes, so they are not visible. Or: Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited several island states in the South Pacific, but “could not” conclude agreements on bases there. (And what if he didn’t intend to?) There is another argument: the gaping absence of bases is the result of the strong work of American diplomacy, which, as, for example, in the UAE, threateningly dissuades local authorities from such steps.
What is going on, and what do these conversations mean (and it is the conversations themselves that make sense, since China is not doing anything like that)? There are several answers here, all of which may be correct.
The answer is the first in a series of boring classics: while the Pentagon recently designated Beijing as “the number one challenge for the US,” the agency’s budget continues the worrying trend of perceiving the country’s military as a “threat over the horizon.” Typical budget lobbying with panic information support.
Second answer: the same is happening as with Taiwan, which the United States is using to provoke China into sharp military actions and arrange a new global conflict already in Asia, since the Ukrainian story is clearly coming to an end. That is, it is simply necessary to force Beijing to really prepare for a fight, to strain resources – to build fleet bases around the world and thereby warm up such a conflict.
Answer three: perhaps the participants in this information campaign sincerely do not understand why China, with its navy, which has already surpassed the American one in the number of ships, does not want to follow the example of the United States. Well, at least in Cambodia, in Ream, why not build a base there? We would definitely do it. Such a good place, at the very Vietnamese border, at the entrance to the Gulf of Thailand. With such a base, ships sailing from the Chinese island of Hainan to the strategically important Strait of Malacca in the south get a good reference point exactly halfway.
However, everything turned out to be wrong: last Wednesday, a ceremony was held in Ream to begin the reconstruction of the Cambodian fleet base. China is a contractor. In general, he is in many places in the world and builds a lot of things, but this does not mean that the constructed facilities and paved roads are Chinese.
And here there is another answer to our question, the fourth. But what if Beijing simply believes that American bases around the world are the Stone Age, and even monstrously expensive?
The fact is that the base of the Navy – for example, the American Subic Bay in the Philippines (now closed) – is a city. Huge warehouses and arsenals of weapons, repair shops, residential areas, a hospital, a school for the children of sailors… And this is always a problem with the locals, who really dislike such cities for a variety of reasons, even if they bring some income. The constitution of the same Cambodia, for example, contains a clause according to which it is forbidden to create foreign bases there. It’s the same in many other countries.
You might as well go the other way. Which China, and not only China, may be following. Not to build hundreds of giant cities, biting off territories from sovereign states and risking losing them during a change of power (as in the Philippines), but to conclude agreements with them on the entry of ships, joint exercises and much more. This is about what we recently did with Nicaragua.
The President of this country, Daniel Ortega, allowed the temporary presence in the country of foreign military, including from Russia, for humanitarian purposes. In particular, the entry of foreign warships and aircraft is allowed, as well as their transit and stop. And such an opportunity is given to neighboring countries, and also to Mexicoand the United States, but not for any reason, but, we repeat, “for mutual exchange and humanitarian support in mutual interests in emergency situations.”
There are a lot of such agreements between China and different states. With the Solomon Islands mentioned, for example, we are not talking about the naval base, about which everyone wrote for a month in the USA, Australia and not only, but about the right of Beijing to send police units there in case of riots.
There are other options. So, at the Cambodian Navy base in Ream, it is possible to install – as The Washington Post suspects – a ground station for the BeiDou navigation satellite system, an analogue of the global positioning system – GPS, controlled by the US Space Forces. Or something else that does not fit into the concept of “fleet base”.
And as an unexpected afterword: one should not think that China will repeat the US style of behavior on land and at sea in detail, but also one should not think that it is not a great maritime power that has every right and every opportunity to protect its interests. It is enough to read the material that has just appeared in the Chinese media on World Oceans Day (was on Wednesday), which quotes the statement of President Xi Jinping about creating a strong ocean power and recalls that all sectors of the maritime economy last year gave the country a technological breakthrough and the amount equal to 1.35 billion dollars.