The demolition of a US-funded building at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base has heightened concerns China will use the facility for access to the South China Sea from the Gulf of Thailand.
The razing of the building, revealed in new satellite imagery released by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, is thought to have occurred between September 5-10.
The building was the Tactical Headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security. It was US-funded and equipped by Australia, according to a speech delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh at the facility’s opening in August 2012.
Speaking to the Agence France-Presse on Sunday, Tea Banh dismissed suggestions the Chinese-funded expansion works at the base meant China would have greater access to the facilities. He said the headquarters would be relocated 30 kilometres away.
“We relocated the facility to a new spot. We cannot keep it anymore and the building is already old,” he said.
But Sophal Ear, a Cambodian-American associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the demolition suggested “full steam ahead with plans [to] transform the base into the second naval facility outside of China and Djibouti [Africa], where the Chinese will have a foothold”.