WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China will be able to deploy forces at a Cambodian naval base under a secret agreement reached by the two nations, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The agreement, which was closed this spring but was not published, grants China exclusive access to part of the Cambodian Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, the Journal reported, citing US officials familiar with the matter.
Such an agreement would give China the opportunity to assert controversial territorial claims and economic interests in the South China Sea, challenging US allies in Southeast Asia. Chinese and Cambodian officials denied that such an agreement existed, the Journal said.
In a statement, the State Department called on Cambodia to reject such an agreement, saying that the nation has a "constitutional commitment to its people to pursue an independent foreign policy."
An invitation from a foreign military presence in Cambodia would jeopardize the coherence and centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in coordinating regional developments and disrupt peace and stability in Southeast Asia, "the statement added.
Earlier this month, in a letter to Cambodia, the US Department of Defense suggested that China could try to gain a foothold in Cambodia and asked why the nation had rejected an offer to repair a naval base.
Reporting by Pete Schroeder and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney