China building massive airfield in Cambodia: New base of operations for South China Sea?

By Jonathan Davis

A Chinese firm is building a 10,500 foot runway in the Cambodian jungle that experts believe is the forerunner to a new military base Beijing will use to keep watch over the South China Sea.

The runway, according to open source reporting, is the longest in the entire country, meaning it’s going to be big enough to accommodate military aircraft.

In addition, the report says, the airfield and base will be located near ports U.S. intelligence believes will also be utilized to land and stage Chinese troops.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing and sometimes overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The New York Times reports that the airfield is being built by a Chinese firm at Dara Sakor International Airport near Cambodia’s southwestern coast. The Telegraph added that the airfield “has a tight turning bay: a style often used by fighter jet pilots.”

Cambodia borders the Gulf of Thailand, which borders the South China Sea.

The Cambodian government has denied that it will house Chinese troops or that the airfield and surrounding area is anything but a new resort. But according to The Telegraph:

Despite denials this year it was revealed that Cambodia’s government, led by prime minister Hun Sen, had secretly signed a deal with China to give Beijing exclusive rights to the use of a Cambodian naval institution near Dara Sakor.

The move was in line with Cambodia’s diplomatic pivot towards China and away from the US and EU over the past decade, as Mr Hun forges closer ties with a powerful ally with equally scant regard for human rights and citizens’ freedoms.

Military observers have warned that Beijing using Cambodian sites as de facto military outposts may be a benefit of China pouring money into the smaller, poorer Asian nation.

The deal is also believed to give Beijing exclusive access to part of a Cambodian naval facility on the Gulf of Thailand. 

“We are concerned that the runway and port facilities at Dara Sakor are being constructed on a scale that would be useful for military purposes and which greatly exceed current and projected infrastructure needs for commercial activity,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, in a statement to the NY Times.

“Any steps by the Cambodian government to invite a foreign military presence would disturb peace and stability in Southeast Asia.”

Of course it would, but that’s the point. China continues to use its “Belt and Road Initiative” to ‘invest’ in infrastructure as a means of extracting basing rights, uses of port facilities, and other militarily advantageous agreements.

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