China’s new naval base at Ream in Cambodia is well documented. It will provide the Chinese Navy (PLAN) with a base at the southern end of the highly contested South China Sea. The base is still east of the Malacca Straight which separates the South China Sea from the Indian Ocean, yet is still strategically important. And a key part of China’s construction of overseas bases.However the base now appears even more expensive and capable than previous reports suggested. There is clear evidence of a new dry dock being constructed. It is important to acknowledge that Cambodia has claimed that the rebuilding of the base at Ream, with Chinese Aid, is for their own navy. So it is possible that the dry dock is for the Royal Cambodian Navy, or even civilian use. However its size and construction make this a less likely explanation and few analysts are likely to accept it. Cambodia’s small navy barely has any naval vessels over 50 meters (164 feet) in length.The dry dock is being built on reclaimed land adjacent to the previously identified new Chinese naval base. Work has progressed quickly since the first hints on 2022 and is already far enough along to be confident that it is indeed a dry dock.
The Cambodian government in Phnom Penh, and some Chinese sources, have denied that the base is for the Chinese Navy. However this argument is increasingly implausible. And there is now little doubt that it is a PLAN overseas base. Adding to this, the construction work shows tell-tale signs of being Chinese.
China’s Most Capable Overseas Base To Date
The dry dock also shows that the base is larger than previously estimated. In August 2022 respected analyst Thomas Shugart was able to deduce about half of the facility. Since then the affected area has more than doubled, partly due to reclaimed land. In 2022 around half the base was clearly visible. The dry dock is on reclaimed land to the south of the marked area there It appears that an additional quay may be constructed on the western side of the dry dock although this is less progressed. The increase in berthing will also be significant.
Increased Strategic Importance Of The Base
The war in Ukraine reminds us that the ability to perform maintenance and repairs on warships is critical to sustain combat operations. China will not want to face the same challenges that Russia does currently in the Mediterranean.
The base is one of several throughout the Indian Ocean, Middle East and Africa. The first, and best known, is in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. That base is heavily fortified and situated next to a much smaller U.S. Navy base. In 2021 China was accused of clandestinely building a special military facility at a port in UAE. That work stopped but there have been unconfirmed reports that it may have resumed in 2023. In addition there have been reports of Chinese plans to build a naval base in Equatorial Guinea in West Africa. This will extend operations into the Atlantic. Most recently there have been reports from U.S. sources of a plan to build another base in Oman, although whether this would be a port facility is unclear.The base in Ream is at least the same size as the one in Djibouti. And the main pier, which appears almost complete, is about the same size in both; large enough to accommodate an aircraft carrier. Given the footprint of the construction activities it is possible that the base will actually end up being larger.
source : navalnews.com H I Sutton