U.S. Urges Cambodian Neutrality As Speculation of Chinese Military Presence Grows

Concerns of the possible presence of the Chinese military in Cambodia was first raised in April 2018 by the U.S.-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

PHNOM PENH —The U.S. embassy on Tuesday urged the Cambodian government to defend its “neutrality policy” as it expressed concerns about a possible Chinese military presence on Cambodia’s coast.

The appeal came after Joseph H. Felter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, sent a letter to Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh, questioning the possibility of Chinese military presence at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The inquiry followed the Cambodian government’s unexpected rejection of U.S. assistance to repair facilities at the naval base.

Emily Zeeberg, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh, said the possibility of hosting a Chinese military base in Cambodia was “a real concern.”

“Given the high level of Chinese economic and political influence in Cambodia, this is a real concern,” she wrote in an email.

“Any steps that weaken Cambodia’s independence or open the door to a foreign military presence in Cambodia would be of serious concern to the United States and could threaten the credibility and centrality of ASEAN,” she said.

“We urge Cambodian leadership to maintain its constitutional commitment to an independent foreign policy and actively protect Cambodia’s independence for future generations,” she added.