The dredges were located outside the Rem naval base in Cambodia, where China is financing construction, and deeper port facilities are required to dock larger warships, according to a US think-tank.
The US sought to counter Beijing’s extensive territorial claims and military expansion in the South China Sea, reiterating its “serious concerns ” about China’s construction and military presence in Genting on Friday in reply to the report.
“These developments threaten US and partner interests, regional security, and Cambodia’s sovereignty,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) states that the dredges can be seen in commercial satellite photos and images released by the Cambodian government this month.
A 2019 Wall Street Journal report that the deal allowed the Chinese military access to the base in exchange for money to upgrade the facility was cited.
Back in June, Cambodian media quoted Defence Minister Tea Bahn saying that China would assist in upgrading and expanding the gimbal, but would not be the only country to have recourse to the facility.
The 16 January commercial satellite images captured two dredges and barges collecting excavated sand, AMTI said. Further images revealed the two dredgers arrived between 13 and 15 January “ could mark a significant upgrade in the base’s capabilities.”
“The shallow waters around Ream mean it is currently only able to host small patrol vessels. A deep-water port would make it far more useful to both the Cambodian and Chinese navies”
Another photo posted on Tea Banh’s Facebook account showed them visiting Ream on 18 January, the agency said, adding that the work was being carried out at the site.
AMTI stated that construction work was proceeding ashore and that several sites southwest of the base had been cleared since the fall of 2021, stating that this and the dredging “indicate that the base is preparing for major infrastructure improvements”.
The state department spokesman stated that the US was strongly urging Cambodia “to be fully transparent about the intent, nature, and scope of the project at Ream and the role the PRC military is playing in its construction, raising concerns about the intended use of the naval facility.
Last year Washington sanctioned two Cambodian officials for suspected corruption in Ream and imposed an arms embargo and export restrictions on Cambodia because of the Chinese military’s growing influence in the country, human rights, and corruption.