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In Remote Cambodia, a Giant Project Worries US

China is building an enormous runway, but Cambodia insists it's not for military use
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2019 7:11 AM CST
A Cambodian woman carries a long-handled machete as she travels on a road in Thmey village, Koh Kong province, in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

(Newser) – It's a reasonable enough question: "Why would the Chinese show up in the middle of a jungle to build a runway?" asks political scientist Sophal Ear of Occidental College in the New York Times. The runway in question is in a remote part of Cambodia, and as it turns out, Ear has an answer to his own question: "This will allow China to project its air power through the region, and it changes the whole game." As the story explains, the Pentagon is worried about the same thing—that China will use the enormous airport, to be finished next year, as a military outpost. Cambodia, for the record, denies this and says the coming Dara Sakor International Airport is all about development and prosperity, not military uses. "Maybe the white people want to hold Cambodia back by stopping us from developing our economy," says a government spokesman.

The runway will be big enough to accommodate jets such as the Airbus A380 and could bring in up to 10 million tourists a year, notes the Nikkei Asian Review (though the Times adds it features "the kind of tight turning bay favored by fighter jet pilots"). The Review notes that "the whole project seems to have received the go-ahead without anyone first checking to see if it might be profitable," which helps explain why the US is worried the site might eventually end up being used by China's military. The same Chinese company working on the airport in Koh Kong province also is deepening a nearby port, work that will make it possible for the site to host naval ships. (Read more Cambodia stories.)

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