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China has made significant progress building a naval base in Cambodia and is close to completing a dock that could dock an aircraft carrier, according to satellite imagery.
Images taken by BlackSky, a US commercial photo company that has been monitoring construction at the Ream Naval Base, show a near-complete pier strikingly similar in size and design to the pier used by the Chinese military at its only overseas base in Djibouti.
The Pentagon believes that China is building a facility in Cambodia to enhance its ability to project its naval power. China and Cambodia denied that the People’s Liberation Army had access to the base.
China has a larger navy than the United States but lacks the extensive international network of bases and logistical facilities needed to function as a “blue water” navy that can circumnavigate the globe. Having access to a base on the Gulf of Thailand would also provide a strategic advantage for China.
“There was controversy inside [US] government about what exactly China would do with the base and why it would be better than a base in the South China Sea or Hainan Island,” said a former US intelligence official.
Over the past decade, China has built a number of military bases on reefs and polders in the South China Sea. But having a base in another country could complicate any US military response in the event of a conflict.
If the United States and China go to war, the United States can only bomb bases in the South China Sea. But in the case of this base, we will bomb Cambodian territory,” the former official said.
Dennis Wilder, a former senior CIA expert in the Chinese military, said that the Ream base would have “the greatest strategic value is the tensions in the South China Sea to turn into a military confrontation.”
“[It] It will also expand and enhance China’s maritime operational capabilities toward the strategic shipping lanes of the Straits of Malacca – a vital choke point in any conflict with the United States and its regional allies,” Wilder added.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the United States said that Cambodia has stated that its constitution prohibits foreign military bases on its soil and that the construction is to enhance Cambodia’s capacity. In March, China and Cambodia conducted their first naval exercises in Cambodian territorial waters.
China repeatedly responds to criticism by saying the US military has hundreds of military installations around the world, including in Asia.
Washington recently reached an agreement with Manila that would give the US military access to four new bases in the Philippines. Lloyd Austin this week will become the first US defense secretary to travel to Papua New Guinea, a visit that comes after the two countries signed a security agreement that will give the Pentagon access to bases in the country.
“naval base [in Cambodia] “It increases China’s regional influence in Southeast Asia, suggesting that the developing world is rapidly becoming an arena for military competition between the United States and China,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University. “Africa and Latin America could be next.”
BlackSky says the first signs of construction of the dock, which is long enough to dock warships including aircraft carriers, came in July 2022. The images showed that China has been building the dock rapidly since the end of 2022.
Harrison Pritat, co-chair of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies CSIS, said the Ream dock was similar to the dock in Djibouti in that both had a 335-meter section that could moor a Chinese aircraft carrier.
“The similarity with the Djibouti dock is definitely another indication of possible Chinese involvement in the construction,” said Britat. “Disagreement over how to use the facilities.”
He follows Dimitri Sevastopoulou in Washington