New Chinese Naval Base in Cambodia Receives First PLA Navy Warships

Former Cambodian defense minister Tea Banh reviews Chinese sailors aboard a PLA Navy warship at Ream, Dec. 3 (Cambodian Ministry of Defense) Courtesy Cambodian Minisdtry of Defense

Published Dec 5, 2023 1:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The newly-built Chinese naval base at Ream, Cambodia, has welcomed its first PLA Navy warships, the Cambodian ministry of defense has confirmed. 

Satellite imagery shows several ships alongside the brand new finger pier that Chinese contractors have installed at Ream, where the Cambodian military has leased the north half of an existing naval base to Chinese forces. It appears to be the first time that the pier has received ships (other than construction barges and dredgers related to the project). Imagery obtained by Planet Labs for Radio Free Asia shows two surface combatants alongside the pier. Open-source intelligence analysts have confirmed the find (below). 

In a post on Facebook, Cambodian minister of defense Tea Seiha said that several Chinese PLA Navy warships have arrived at Ream in order to support training for the Cambodian Navy. He visited the base to greet them, accompanied by his predecessor (and father), the influential Cambodian politician Tea Banh. 

Cambodian Ministry of Defense

The U.S. military has long warned of Chinese plans to build a base at Ream. In 2020, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that they had an early draft of an agreement between Cambodia and China on the future use of the site. The deal would allow Chinese forces to use the northern half of the site for a period of 30 years, with automatic renewal thereafter. Cambodia's constitution forbids permanent foreign military bases, but Western analysts view the quasi-hereditary Cambodian regime as a client of Beijing.

In 2022, contractors began building a large finger pier and a drydock at Ream. Both are far larger than needed for any vessel in the Cambodian Navy's small fleet. Tom Shugart, Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, told RFA that the new pier's dimensions would be long enough for a Chinese carrier. The pier was completed in November.

On the same day as the inaugural port call in Ream, Cambodian ruler Hun Manet - son of longtime prime minister Hun Sen - welcomed General He Weidong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, the top Chinese defense command. Manet held a reception to "meet and discuss work" at the presidential palace in Phnom Penh. 

Gen. He Weidong (left) joins Hun Manet in Phnom Penh, Dec. 3 (Courtesy Prime Minister of Cambodia)