Chinese-funded naval base in Cambodia gets an upgrade . . .
New satellite imagery and photos from the Cambodian government show the presence of dredgers off the coast of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, where China has been funding construction since 2019. Dredging, or the removal of material such as sand from the bottom of bodies of water, would enable deep-water military ships to dock at Ream. A spokesperson for the US State Department warned that these developments “threaten U.S. and partner interests, regional security and Cambodia’s sovereignty.” U.S. officials have repeatedly raised concerns over the intended use of the Ream Naval Base. The Cambodian government has denied accusations that it will grant the Chinese military access to the base. Late last year, Washington imposed sanctions on two Cambodian defence officials for corruption related to Ream and imposed an arms embargo on Cambodia over human rights, corruption, and growing Chinese influence in the Kingdom.
New U.S. diplomatic complex in ‘China’s backyard’ . . .
While U.S.-Cambodia relations remain frosty, Washington has been working to establish closer ties with other Southeast Asian states. A new U.S. Consulate General office is currently under construction in the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a complex described as a symbol of long-term U.S. commitment to northern Thailand. However, Beijing views the US$300-million project less than 500 km from the Chinese border as an attempt to reinforce U.S. intelligence gathering capacity in the strategically important region, which also borders Laos and Myanmar. Last October, U.S. and Thai officials discussed opening a humanitarian corridor across the Thai-Myanmar border to provide assistance to the conflict-affected area. Beijing, meanwhile, maintains close ties to several ethnic armed organizations in Thailand and northern Myanmar and has pursued several co-operation projects with states in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
Southeast Asia rethinks approach to US-China rivalry . . .
Sparring by the U.S. and China over Southeast Asia on land and sea has prompted countries in the region to rethink their approach to great power competition. In February, Indonesia will convene maritime security officials from five ASEAN member states to discuss a possible joint response to Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. The initiative, if successful, could evolve into an ASEAN-wide response aimed at confronting both the U.S. and China and their activities in the region. Although both superpowers will undoubtedly continue to court Southeast Asian countries for their own strategic gains, China’s close economic and strategic ties with several regional countries may help it offset criticism of its military presence in the South China Sea and the Greater Mekong. It remains to be seen whether ASEAN, currently under Cambodia’s chairmanship, will be able to conclude a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and resolve the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.
- The Interpreter: Could minilateralism work in the South China Sea?
- The Irrawaddy: New US diplomatic complex in Thailand aimed at China and Myanmar
- South China Morning Post: Dredgers spotted off Cambodia’s Ream naval base where China is funding work, says US think tank