China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia for the exclusive use of its military, with both countries denying that is the case and taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation, Western officials said.
The military presence will be on the northern portion of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, which is slated to be the site of a groundbreaking ceremony this week, according to the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
The establishment of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia — only its second such overseas outpost and its first in the strategically significant Indo-Pacific region — is part of Beijing’s strategy to build a network of military facilities around the world in support of its aspirations to become a true global power, the officials said.
China is nowhere close to matching the network of military bases the United States has around the world, a major U.S. military and strategic advantage, said Richard Fontaine, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. But, he said, a base in Cambodia “gives them a force-projection capability that they would otherwise not have in the region. That’s intrinsic to the Chinese aspiration of having a more dominant military presence throughout the Asian rimland and in the South China Sea, allowing Beijing to hold at risk — and have political influence over — countries quite far from the Chinese shore.”
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