WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Dredgers have been spotted
off Cambodias Ream naval base, where China is funding
construction work and deeper port facilities would be necessary
for the docking of larger military ships, a U.S. think tank said
The United States, which has sought to push back against
Beijing's extensive territorial claims and military expansion in
the South China Sea, reiterated its "serious concerns" about
China's construction and military presence at Ream.
"These developments threaten U.S. and partner interests,
regional security, and Cambodia's sovereignty," a spokesperson
for the State Department said.
The report from the Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS) think tank said the dredgers could be seen in
photos released this month by the Cambodian government and in
commercial satellite imagery.
"Dredging of deeper port facilities would be necessary for
the docking of larger military ships at Ream, and was part of a
secret agreement between China and Cambodia that U.S. officials
reported seeing in 2019," the Asia Maritime Transparency
Initiative at CSIS reported.
It cited a 2019 Wall Street Journal report that said the
deal granted China military access to the base in return for
funding facilities improvements.
Last June, Cambodian media quoted Defense Minister Tea Bahn
as saying China would help to modernize and expand Ream, but
would not be the only country given access to the facility.
AMTI said a Jan. 16 commercial satellite image showed two
dredgers and barges for collecting dredged sand. It said other
images showed both dredgers arriving between Jan. 13 and Jan.
They were also visible in a photo posted on Tea Banhs
Facebook page following his Jan. 18 visit to Ream, it said,
adding that the work "could mark a significant upgrade in the
"The shallow waters around Ream mean it is currently only
able to host small patrol vessels. A deep-water port would make
it far more useful to both the Cambodian and Chinese navies."
AMTI said construction work had continued onshore, with land
clearing in several locations in the southwest of the base since
fall 2021 and said this and the dredging "indicates that the
base is being prepared for significant infrastructure upgrades."
The State Department spokesperson said the United States
urged Cambodia "to be fully transparent about the intent,
nature, and scope of the project at Ream and the role the PRC
military is playing in its construction, raising concerns about
the intended use of this naval facility."
PRC stands for the People's Republic of China.
Last year, Washington sanctioned two Cambodian officials
over alleged corruption at Ream and imposed an arms embargo and
export restrictions on Cambodia over what it said was the
growing influence of China's military in the country, as well as
over human rights and corruption.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington
Editing by Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio)