A senior government official urges an end to the allegations and suspicions surrounding the development of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, now that Prime Minister Hun Manet has addressed the issue on the floor of the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA 78).
Jean-Francois Tain, a geopolitical expert and attache to the prime minister, made the call on September 25 upon the Cambodian delegation’s return from the UNGA 78 in the US’ New York City.
Speaking at a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport, Tain said it was the “first time ever” that a Cambodian leader had used the UN assembly floor to address the accusations that the Ream Naval Base is being used to host a Chinese military presence.
According to a September 25 statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Manet also conveyed an important message to the world on Cambodia’s resolute position that the Kingdom will “not authorise any foreign military base on its territory, as clearly stated in its Constitution”.
Manet also firmly stated that Cambodia “will not allow any country nor any group to use its territory against any other country”.
Regarding the naval base, Tain said that now is the right time to drop the subject.
“The issue surrounding the Ream Naval Base has been debated for years . . . This is the first time ever that Cambodia, through Prime Minister Hun Manet, has declared its position openly to the world. It would not be possible for a foreign military base to exist in Cambodia,” he said.
“If, for example, Cambodia at some point in the future was to permit a foreign military base on its territory, then its neutrality would dissolve, like salt in water. The words that [Manet] used concerning Cambodia’s neutrality at the UNGA 78 would become meaningless,” he added.
On bilateral ties with the US, Tain said Cambodia remains optimistic and believes that ties will improve once again when both countries find common ground on their mutual interests. He rated current Cambodia-US ties as “fairly good”.
He described the meeting between Manet and US acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland on the sidelines of the UNGA 78 as “close, friendly, and cheerful” atmosphere. During the meeting, both sides discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties, with the US resuming the provision of $18 million in aid through the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The relations between Cambodia and the US will improve only when both countries have bigger mutual interests; no matter whether it is in terms of trade, politics or geopolitics,” Tain explained.
“Cambodia is smaller and weaker, while the US is the top superpower. Currently, we have more interest in trade,” he said, adding that in 2022, the trade volume between the two nations stood at $13.5 billion.
Due to possible differences of interests, since Cambodia gained independence in 1953, there has never been an official visit by a US president to Cambodia aside from the attendance of former US President Barack Obama and incumbent President Joe Biden at the ASEAN-US summits in 2012 and 2022, respectively.
Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun welcomed Manet’s clarification of the Ream Naval Base accusations at the UN, though the West may not be satisfied.
He urged Cambodia to adhere to the essence of the Paris Peace Agreements, which do not permit foreign military bases on the Kingdom’s soil.
Ou Chanrath, deputy president of the Cambodia Reform Party, lauded Manet’s speech at the UN, saying it had more or less allayed concerns about the matter.
He believed the suspicion around the development of the base stemmed from Cambodia being close with China, amid geopolitical rivalry among the superpowers.
“To wipe out suspicion, the construction of the base should be done with transparency. This will alter the way the West communicates with the Kingdom,” he said.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said relations between the two nations appeared to be positive, with the resumption of the aid as a testament. He believes the two governments seem to have misunderstandings on some issues, which require them to sit and talk.
“I urge both governments to meet and clarify any conflicting ideas; this would be mutually beneficial for both sides,” he added.