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Cambodia and China are planning to revamp a strategic Cambodian naval base amid concerns from the United States and its allies that the facility will be used exclusively by the Chinese navy, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

Officials from China and Cambodia attended a ceremony Wednesday as work began at the Ream naval base, located on the Gulf of Thailand. The project was paid for by a Chinese grant and will include the construction of a boat maintenance workshop and two piers. China also donated military equipment and will pay for the repair of eight Cambodian warships.

The revamp is expected to take two years.

Chinese and Cambodian representatives said the project will deepen the “iron-clad” friendship between the two nations and modernize Cambodia’s navy.

But Western officials had expressed concern that the strategically-located base will be used by China’s fleet as Beijing seeks to shore up its international influence with a network of military outposts.

For years, the naval base had been a point of contention between the US and Cambodia. US diplomats warned that the project lacks transparency and could “threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security.”

But Cambodia and China denied the allegations, saying the base’s development is “not a secret.” They added that the base is also small and “won’t pose a threat to anyone, anywhere.”

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