Chinese Warships Spotted at Covert Overseas Naval Base

( — Concerns about the expanding role of China and their military presence overseas were ignited by two Chinese warships that were spotted at the Ream Naval Base in Cambodia this week.

The Chinese warships were the first ships to dock at the newly constructed pier at Ream Naval Base. The ships docked during the same week that He Weidong, China’s top defense official, also visited Cambodia. Though the events did not draw much publicity, many international security analysts believe the visit from Chinese military officials and the docking of the Chinese naval vessels are signals that the naval base is about to be completed. Analysts are not surprised by the presence of Chinese warships, as China provided much of the funding for Ream Naval Base to be completed.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ships were visited by Tea Seiha, Cambodia’s Minister of Defense. His father, Tea Banh, who held the same position before Seiha did, also joined him. Wang Wentian, the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, also visited the Cambodian naval base, according to pictures shared on social media.

The presence of the two warships was verified by satellite photos taken by Planet Labs PBC. The Associated Press analyzed the photos and believes the warships are Type 56 Chinese corvettes.

The Ream Naval Base has been a source of controversy since 2019, when American media reported an agreement between Cambodia and China that would allow China to use the naval base to store weapons, warships, and post military personnel for 30 years. Hun Sen, who was the Cambodian Prime Minister at the time, denied the agreement, citing the Cambodian constitution, which does not allow foreign military bases to be established on their soil.

Ream Naval Base is located on the Gulf of Thailand, near the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, which is a narrow stretch of water between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Many American security analysts are concerned about China’s presence in the Malacca Strait, as it could become a chokepoint to block passage within the Gulf of Thailand.

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