Chinese-funded construction in the northern compound of Ream Naval Base in Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand, is making progress, recent satellite images have shown. As reports began to emerge in 2022 about the deal that will allow China to use the base militarily for 30 years, both countries initially firmly denied the allegations, U.S.-based news site Naval Technology reported.
“This is part of China’s strategy to hijack the waters of the Asia-Pacific region, including those of India and the Middle East,” Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the advisory team of Peru’s Congressional Intelligence Commission, told Diálogo on April 21. “We cannot rule out a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.”
This will be Beijing’s second naval base outside mainland China on foreign soil, after its 2017 inauguration of its first overseas base in Djibouti, Africa. On February 22, Radio Free Asia (RFA) news service published satellite images showing large-scale land clearing and construction of two new piers in the Ream Naval Base.
RFA noted that the piers “seemed to be temporary ones to ferry construction materials and equipment and not naval piers for warships.” However, in the last few months, analysts familiar with the site say that there has been further construction to expand one of the piers, exceeding specifications to ferry construction materials and instead meeting those to service China’s Warships, Naval Technology reported.
“Satellite imagery from [U.S. geospatial satellite intelligence company] BlackSky shows the pier extending into waters deep enough to service aircraft carriers,” Naval Technology added.
“We started monitoring this facility, at first at low frequency […]. Then as we started to understand the pace of activity at this facility was picking up, we picked up the rate we were doing collection and analytics,” Brian O’Toole, CEO of BlackSky, told reporters.
“Following the same line of [military, intelligence, economic, and commercial] expansion it is perfectly credible and sustainable that in Latin America they [China] could install military bases when they deem it necessary for their interests,” Serrano said.
The U.S. believes that China’s Belt and Road initiative to build ports and other infrastructure, of which Latin America is a part, will pave the way for Beijing to build more military bases worldwide in its bid to become a global power, Bloomberg reported.
Through its Belt and Road initiative China already controls docks and has projects for new ports from Mexico to Argentina in Tierra del Fuego, the Latin American Economic Observatory (OBELA) indicates in a report. China is currently seeking to use the Punta Arenas port in Chile for the exploitation of Antarctica. China is also pressuring Argentina to build a naval base in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego province, as another gateway to the white continent.
As such, Beijing may “try to install a military base or transform or expand the construction of the naval bases it is erecting through its companies in the multipurpose mega-port of Chancay, Peru, to allow the arrival of Chinese warships,” Serrano said.
“But there is a problem. Years ago, Beijing tried to seek control over the management of Panamanian port terminals to expand its influence,” Serrano added. “However, the United States immediately exerted pressure and Beijing backed down. The same thing happened when China sought to build an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua.”
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Chinese regime seeks to reshape the international order to align with its authoritarian system and national interests as a vital component of its strategy to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.
As part of the deal with Cambodia, China agreed to support the Royal Cambodian Navy in repairing some of its aging ships and dredging navigation lanes to allow medium-sized ships to access the base. It will also help Cambodia build a dry dock, a slipway, a hospital, several buildings, and roads, RFA reported.
“If a Chinese military base is installed in Latin America it would be a threat to regional security,” Serrano said. “We would be facing a direct escalation, no longer just a projection of China, which already exists even as a creator of dictatorships in the region, but from the military point of view for the entire region.”
The impact for the economy and in terms of exports, would be highly negative, Serrano added. “The population would not allow their government to put the country at risk; they would protest until the government or the dictatorship changes this measure to avoid confrontations,” he said.
“And since Latin America is part of the American continent where the United States and Canada are, which are NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies, neither NATO nor its allies would allow that,” Serrano concluded.