On 22 July Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen refuted rumours of the nontransparent nature of relations with China on the official news site Fresh News. He said that "there could be no secret agreement on granting China access to the Ream Base because the deployment of foreign military bases is contrary to the Constitution of Cambodia". The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, in turn, noted the transparent and equal nature of the multifaceted cooperation with Cambodia. The diplomat expressed hope that "some countries will not overestimate its level".
Earlier, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed US officials, exposed a secret deal allegedly existing since spring. According to the document, China reportedly received exclusive rights to use the Ream Naval Base in the Gulf of Thailand for 30 years, with an option for automatic renewal every 10 years. Furthermore, the base is stipulated to be intended for the deployment of the military, weapon storage and the docking of vessels. Earlier there were reports that this base can accept frigates, destroyers and ships of other classes of Chinese Navy vessels.
This publication appeared shortly after Phnom Penh rejected an offer by the US Department of Defence to help repair its naval base. Phnom Penh's independent decision caused considerable irritation in the United States and was intended to counter interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia. In fact, the US military issued an ultimatum, demanding an explanation of the reasons for the refusal. The US State Department, for its part, suggested that China might try to gain a firm foothold on this base. It expressed concern that any steps taken by the Government of Cambodia to encourage a foreign military presence could jeopardise ASEAN's coherence and central role in coordinating affairs in the region, and disrupt peace and stability in South East Asia.
According to Professor Dai Yonghong at Sichuan University's Centre of South Asian Studies, this is pure speculation on the "Chinese threat":
"I believe that this is a kind of speculation, the usual way for the United States to spin the "theory of the Chinese threat". In fact, the United States itself has hundreds of military bases around the world. China still has no military bases neither in Southeast Asia nor South Asia. One can even say about the lack of any intention of China to build military bases. I think that such actions by the United States are consistent with their unwinding of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The US is continually speculating on the "theory of the Chinese threat" in the South China Sea, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and along the Silk Road Economic Belt, including the idea of China building military bases in the countries of these regions. Their goal is to win over and convince these coastal countries to expand cooperation with the US".
Telling stories is a common disservice by the US. Meanwhile, there has been a recent move to persuade Sri Lanka to sign a bilateral agreement on the deployment of US military units on their territory. The agreement appears very lopsided. The United States acts similarly in the Indian Ocean, and with countries involved in the Chinese Maritime Silk Road project, US actions are directed against China. As for Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has firmly rejected US allegations, while the Americans continue to insist. In addition to speculating on the "theory of the Chinese threat", the goal is to find a pretext for American military presence in the South China Sea Basin, along the Maritime Silk Road and in the Indian Ocean".
China is a reliable regional partner and donor to Cambodia. Their relations, including military-technical ties, are developing as economic and investment cooperation is strengthened. The parties don't need outside interference in how their relationships develop. It's not hard to imagine how the United States would react if a foreign government attempted to dictate how they build their relationships with their neighbours, Canada for instance.
Following the example of Cambodia, Sri Lanka also rejected US attempts to develop military cooperation. The US wants to conclude a separate agreement with Colombo on the possibility of landing US Army Special Forces on the island so that in the future, the local bureaucracy does not become an obstacle in their path. Lobbying for this agreement, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B. Teplitz, cited as an example the situation during the 2017 flood on the island. She said that Colombo at that time turned to the United States for help. The American side did deliver humanitarian aid, but the aircraft that were transporting it ran into bureaucratic obstacles associated with the requirements of special government permission to land. According to her, the new agreement will speed up these procedures in case of an emergency.
Local media and political analysts met the American initiative with harsh criticism, seeing in it a threat to national sovereignty. At the same time, arguments by the US ambassador that the proposed new agreement is an update of the existing one, and doesn't envisage the creation of a military base in the country fell on deaf ears.
The US Ambassador refusing to admit that the military treaty is related to China has attracted attention. "China has nothing to do with it. All this is connected with our long-standing bilateral partnership with Sri Lanka", said Teplitz on Facebook.
*Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.