- After North Korea and Pakistan, Cambodia — one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Belt and Road Initiative projects — is emerging as China’s closest ally.
- And the US isn’t too happy. But the Beijing-Phnom Penh relationship comes at a cost for Cambodians.
- This week, it is learnt that China is trying to build a facility at the Ream Naval Base in the south of Cambodia.
- The Washington Post has reported the construction of a Chinese naval facility north of Ream Naval Base on the Cambodian coast.
- According to the report, the alleged facility will be only the second of its kind after Djibouti in East Africa.
- Beijing has carefully crafted its support in Phnom Penh by propping up Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and directly helping him sustain power.
- Many have speculated about Cambodia’s decision to bandwagon with China on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- On BRI, the bandwagoning can also be explained by the nonexistence of historical tributary relations between Cambodia and China that brought its territory under direct threat from larger states—Thailand and Vietnam.
- Cambodia seems to be seeking a new type of security under Beijing’s ambit that is hard to pass as a relatively weak regional power.
- Beijing and Phnom Penh have denied the existence of plans to build a PLA naval base since 2019. But their business ties are now well established.
Big shock to USA
- The speculation about a new Chinese military base in Ream Naval base isn’t exactly new. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cambodia and China had signed a secret agreement allowing PLA to use the naval base.
- In 2020, satellite imagery showed the demolition of the US-funded Tactical Headquarters by Cambodia, which followed the demolition of the National Committee for Maritime Security Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) Maintenance Facility and nearby boat ramp.
- US officials had begun speculating if the cleared space would be used for a Chinese facility and mark a full swing towards Beijing.
- Two years later, the American fear has come true.
China’s investment in Cambodia
- Towards the northwest of Ream Naval Base is located a city whose existence is a testimony of ties between Cambodia and China—Sihanoukville.
- The city, approximately 29.6 km from the naval base, has Cambodia’s only deep-water port and has a large presence of Chinese nationals and businesses.
- Between 2013 and 2017, China is said to have invested $5.3 billion in Cambodia.
- In 2020, Cambodia’s economy stood at $25.81 billion.
- Around 2017, around 1,20,000 tourists and 78,000 permanent residents from China arrived at Sihanoukville—a province with a total population of 1,50,000.
- While gambling remains banned for Cambodian locals, it became the centre of attraction for the Chinese who were able to bypass all laws.
- The southern coast of Cambodia is home to $4.2 billion worth of power plants and offshore mining companies primary owned and operated by the Chinese.
- It was almost as if the Chinese government had outsourced gambling and drug-infused partying by its citizens to Cambodia.
- The drug trade through Sihanoukville grew as the new money from China rolled into the Cambodian city’s streets.
- Despite some Chinese residents of Sihanoukville returning home during the pandemic, the drug bust cases haven’t stopped.
- On 1 June, the Cambodian police arrested four Chinese nationals for drug trafficking.
- Relations between Cambodia and the US, however, have become strained, as Washington has criticised his authoritarian leadership, and crackdown on opposition voices.
- After the ceremony, the US embassy in Phnom Penh warned that a Chinese “military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia‘s autonomy and undermine regional security”.
- It is getting very hard to hide the Chinese military base in Cambodia.
- A Chinese official has confirmed to The Washington Post that “a portion of the base” will be used by the PLA.
- The Indo-Pacific is now subject to intense geopolitical jockeying and tripwires are on every corner.
Q) Cambodia got independence in 1953 from which country?