PHNOM PENH: China will help to modernise and expand Cambodia's largest naval base but will not be the only country given access to the facility, Cambodian media reported on Wednesday (Jun 2), quoting the country's defence minister.
In October, Cambodia confirmed it had razed a small US-built facility at Cambodia's Ream Naval Base as part of a planned upgrade, but had denied reports that China would be involved in that.
The Pentagon last year sought an explanation from Cambodia for the demolition.
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Tea Banh told news portal Fresh News that Cambodia had asked for China's help.
"(China's) contribution to the development of the Ream port is to upgrade the Cambodian defence sector in the maritime sector or to give Cambodia a base to have a suitable place, a workshop for repairing ships, a suitable port for docking," Tea Banh was quoted as saying.
"They came to help, Cambodia is very grateful ... and this help has been clearly discussed, that this help comes without strings attached," Tea Banh added.
As China's only ally in Southeast Asia, Cambodia has been an asset to Beijing as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which seeks consensus on its key decisions, some of which impact China's strategic interests.
The US has increasingly sought to engage ASEAN and its members as a check on the growing influence of China, the region's dominant trading partner.
Calls by Reuters to Tea Banh on Wednesday were not answered.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh referred Reuters to an official statement issued after a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Sherman sought clarification on Tuesday about the demolition of US-funded buildings and urged Cambodia's leadership to "maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy".