Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Tuesday (June 1, 2021) and expressed “serious concerns” about the establishment of Chinese military facilities in Cambodia.
A State Department statement released the same day said Sherman sought clarification on Cambodia’s unannounced dismantling of two U.S.-funded military facilities at the Yunlang Naval Base, while expressing serious concern about China’s construction of military facilities at the same military base. She said China’s establishment of military bases in Cambodia would undermine its sovereignty, threaten regional security and negatively impact U.S.-Cambodia relations. Urging Cambodian leaders to maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy in the best interests of the Cambodian people, Sherman said the statement.
A U.S. think tank in Washington, D.C., based on information provided by satellite images, found that Cambodian authorities dismantled two naval facilities built with U.S. assistance between September and November last year. Afterward, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh “was disappointed that Cambodian military authorities destroyed another U.S.-funded maritime security facility without notice or explanation.”
But Cambodian Defense Minister Dipan said Cambodia took these actions for its own benefit and was under no obligation to inform the U.S. of its plans.
The naval base at Vinh Long is Cambodia’s largest naval base, with a deep-water port facing the Gulf of Thailand, from which ships have direct access to the South China Sea.
The United States had concerns that Cambodia’s dismantling of U.S.-assisted facilities could be linked to China’s plans to locate military assets and personnel at the base in Vinh Long.
Cambodia is one of China’s closest allies in Southeast Asia and has received billions of dollars in Chinese aid. Prime Minister Hun Sen, often criticized by the West for human rights violations, has received the political and economic support from China that has kept him in charge of Cambodia for nearly 40 years.
In a meeting with Hun Sen on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Sherman urged the Cambodian government to abide by its commitments to international and domestic human rights, saying the protection of human rights and the right to fundamental freedoms is an important part of the bilateral relationship.
Cambodia will assume the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022. Sherman assured Hun Sen that the United States intends to work with Cambodia to help ASEAN play a constructive role in addressing major political and security issues in North Korea, the South China Sea and the Mekong River Basin.