In the four years since US intelligence first disclosed to The Wall Street Journal that an agreement had been reached granting Beijing military access to Cambodia’s Ream naval base, analysts have watched the development of what many suspect is China’s next overseas military baseNow, satellite images from Maxar Technologies reveal the dramatic transformation the Cambodian naval base, near Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand, is undergoing. This Chinese-funded project would extend Beijing’s military reach into the contested waters of Southeast Asia.
The latest satellite images acquired in June show an assortment of Chinese-funded building activities. Visible are land clearance operations, land reclamation efforts, the construction of several new buildings, roads and importantly a large pier much bigger than the base’s original jetty. New fencing is visible around the base’s perimeter, and buildings funded by the US have been demolished and replaced.
In the past 18 months, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is reported to have allocated 157 hectares to the building of air defences, general command facilities and a naval radar installation near the base. Cambodian state media have reported that new storage facilities, a hospital, drydocks and slipways are planned at Ream.Hun Sen has been in power since 1998, but with US influence in Cambodia waning amid his increasingly autocratic tendencies, he has courted Beijing, dropping his hostility to China for its role in supporting the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Beijing has responded with investment and economic incentives, not least in Sihanoukville itself. Cambodia has reciprocated by offering diplomatic support to China.