Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday denied a Wall Street Journal report that Cambodia had signed a secret agreement with China to allow the Chinese Navy use of its Ream Naval base in southwestern Sihanoukville province.
In its publication on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal said the bilateral agreement, signed in spring, would give China exclusive rights to parts of the Cambodian naval base, which is located “not far” from a large airport being built by China on the Gulf of Thailand in neighboring Koh Kong province.
“This is the worst fake news against Cambodia,” said Hun Sen in an interview with Fresh News, a local government-aligned outlet.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that both parties have yet to disclose the agreement. Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the Journal wrote that the agreement would allow the Chinese "to use the base for 30 years, with automatic renewals every 10 years after that" to post its military personnel, store weapons, and berth warships.
Hun Sen also mentioned that any presence of the foreign military in Cambodia would be violating its constitution and that there is no such discussion to allow China’s military use of the Cambodian naval base. The premier insisted that major news outlets should stop “reporting fake news about Chinese military in Cambodia.”
The Wall Street Journal further added that a Chinese naval base on the Cambodian coast would boost China’s influence in Southeast Asia and help with its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Ministry of Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat claimed that the news is “fake,” baseless and exaggerating, saying that Cambodia has never signed any agreement that violates its own constitution.
“We have declared again and again that there is no agreement that [approves] any location for the Chinese military to operate in Cambodia,” said Chhum Socheat. “We have said enough.”
The Ministry of Defense spokesman also expressed on his Facebook account this morning that “foreign media appear to attempt to destroy security and peace in Cambodia and the region.”
However, Emily V. Zeeberg , spokeswomen for the US Embassy in Cambodia expressed concern through email to VOA Khmer this morning after news about the secret agreement broke on the Wall Street Journal.
Noting that the US Embassy “is monitoring media reports,” Zeeberg urged the Cambodia government to be “fully transparent about any military agreement with China” and that foreign military presence in Cambodia would threaten the centrality and coherence of Cambodia in ASEAN.
“We urge Cambodia’s leadership to honor its constitutional commitment to its people to pursue an independent foreign policy, and to protect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty for future generations,” she said.