By Yojiro Konno
Since the People’s Republic of China took over control of the Panama Canal in 2000, China has been rapidly increasing its activities in Latin America. In terms of economic activities, trade between China and Latin America increased 10 times in less than 10 years. President Hu Jintao’s visits to several Latin American countries in 2004 and his promise to invest $100 billion in the region also illustrate China’s increased presence in Latin America.
Although China is establishing closer ties with numerous countries inLatin America, its close relations with Cuba and Venezuela deserve special attention. Some analysts assume that China’s ties with Cuba and Venezuela are primarily economic and are compatible with U.S. interests. Considering, however, China’s alleged weapons sales to Cuba and Venezuela, Chinese electronic spying facilities in Cuba, and Chinese opposition to U.S.-led efforts regarding these two anti-American regimes, it is reasonable to conclude that such Chinese advancement does hurt U.S. security interests
China’s Connections with Cuba and Venezuela
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of economic, political, and military support from the Soviet Union, it was China who rescued Cuba from their severe economic crisis. China had provided interest-free loans to Cuba in the early 1990s, and in 2001 China signed an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, under which China offered substantial support to Cuba, including an additional $6.5 million interest-free loan and a $200 million grant to modernize Cuba’s telecommunications. Furthermore, China and Cuba started 10 operative joint ventures with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.[i]
In 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a trade agreement which called for $500- million-Chinese-investment in Cuban nickel plants and an annual 4,400 tons of Cuban nickel exports to China. China also agreed to provide a $6 million grant to Cuban hospitals, materials for school uniforms valued at $6 million, and one-million television sets. Trade between the two countries reached $2.2 billion in 2007, almost a 250 percent increase from 2005.[ii] In the last few years, China became Cuba’s second-largest trading partner, next to Venezuela.[iii] The frequent high-class military exchanges and the expansion of weapons systems provided by China to Cuba show the close military ties that now exist between the two countries.[iv]In terms of Chinese-Venezuelan relations, Hugo Chavez’s visit to China in 1999 illustrated the strong ties between the two countries. During his trip, Chavez signed a number of oil and political agreements, including Venezuela’s purchase of Chinese military equipment and China’s dispatch of military trainers to Venezuela.[v] Indeed, after the failed attempt to overthrow Hugo Chavez in 2002, PLA military trainers replaced U.S. military trainers in Venezuela.[vi]
China’s Weapon Sales to Cuba and Venezuela
In June 2001, citing U.S. intelligence sources, the Washington Times reported that state-run China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) sent “at least three shipments of weapons” to Cuba during 2000.[vii] A Chinese spokesman, Zhang Yuanyuan, denied the allegations saying, “China has supplied the Cuban military with logistics items – never arms,” although he refused to specify what kinds of “logistics items” China provides.[viii] Being asked if explosives were included, the Chinese spokesman simply said that explosives could be used for both civilian and military purposes.[ix] Some claim that such military logistic items are used to modernize the base and other military equipment, including Russian war planes.
An intelligence source told the daily El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish newspaper published in Miami, that China limits its military assistance to logistical items, such as radars and aircraft equipment.[x] Additionally, because the U.S. State Department denied that the government had documents “confirming” China’s allegations, it seems that Chinese military sales to Cuba are in fact limited to “logistical items.” Jason Feer from CubaNews claims that China is unlikely to supply lethal weapons to Cuba because such an act triggers a 1996 U.S. law that requires U.S. economic sanctions against a country that provides significant arms to Cuba.[xi] However, now that China controls the Panama Canal, where most ships from the Pacific pass through in order to reach Cuba, such speculation causes one to wonder how the United States detects China’s weapon sales to Cuba without any U.S. presence at the Panama Canal.[xii]
China is getting closer to selling significant weapons to another anti-U.S. regime in Latin America-Venezuela. The United States used to be a principal military supporter of Venezuela until Hugo Chavez took over the government. However, now that Chavez is President of Venezuela, Venezuela recently purchased a modern communications satellite and three Chinese long-range defense radars in an attempt to reduce its dependency on the United States. The contract includes China’s right to have leased access to a satellite communications network. According to the Press Association, this satellite is to be launched on November 1, 2008.[xiii] Al Santoli, a former Senior Vice-President of the American Foreign Policy Council, testified to Congress that one intelligence source reported that China recently offered to sell FC-1 fighters to Venezuela.[xiv] Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, even claims: “We can anticipate that Chavez will soon be buying Chinese weapons.”[xv] Indeed, a news article of the Press Association on August 18, 2008, reported that President Chavez said that Venezuela is looking to purchase Chinese-made military planes.[xvi]
China’s Electronic Espionage Facilities in Cuba and Intelligence Sharing
China operates several electronic and cyber-warfare bases in Cuba, which, according to Al Santoli, “not only permit enhanced electronic surveillance of broad areas of the U.S. at present,” but also “can be used to disrupt critical U.S. strategic communications during a period of conflict.”[xvii] China seems to operate at least three electronic and cyber spying facilities in Cuba: one in Santiago de Cuba, another in Bejucal, and the third in Lourdes.
A spying facility in Santiago de Cuba, located in the far east of Cuba, seems to be intercepting U.S. satellite signals, including military satellite communications, according to Cuban sources in 1999.[xviii][xix][xx] An espionage base in the Bejucal area is said to possess complex telephone interception systems.[xxi][xxii][xxiii] In Lourdes near Havana, China reportedly operates an electronic espionage facility after Russia abandoned its largest espionage facility outside the former Soviet Union in 2001.[xxiv] Al Santoli claims that these bases have been camouflaged under a pretext of China-Cuba collaboration regarding telecommunications.[xxv]
In 2005 China was accused of conducting espionage activities using front companies to steal sensitive military technologies from the United States, Britain, Germany, and Canada.[xxvi] Considering China’s past attempts some are rightly concerned that while China’s close military ties does not provide an immediate military threat to the United States, it enhances China’s asymmetrical military options because China was able to obtain “major listening posts and communications jamming stations in Cuba.”[xxvii]
Additionally, as Chavez has suggested that he may provide China and Cuba with some U.S. military jets so they can study the technology,[xxviii] it is possible for these three countries to cooperate in espionage against the United States and share intelligence with their anti-U.S. friends, such as Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism (See The Americas Report on July 24, 2008, article by David Witter).
China as a Guardian of State-Sponsor of Terror and Anti-U.S. Regime
China has been a powerful advocate of Cuba, a state sponsor of terror as designated by the U.S. State Department. Chinese President Jiang in 2001 claimed that China “supports the Cuban people’s fight to safeguard state sovereignty…and reject foreign intervention and threats…. Politically we support and understand each other.”[xxix] Indeed, China consistently opposes U.S. sanctions on Cuba at the United Nations.
For example, China’s UN representative criticized the United States for maintaining the embargo on Cuba in October 2004 and opposed U.S.-led efforts to condemn Cuba for its repression of civil and political freedom in April 2005. It is also important to remember that China has veto rights on the U.N. Security Council that could be used against any decision seeming to harm China’s friends, such as Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, Iran, North Korea and others.
Castro and Chavez seem to know from prior experience that the United States will not take any strong actions against them if China is on their side. Now two anti-U.S. regimes in Latin America seemed to have gained a powerful ally that supports their undemocratic regimes.[xxx]
China Threat: Strategic Positioning around Latin America and the World
Not only has China obtained energy and natural resources from Cuba and Venezuela, but it has also succeeded in gaining anti-U.S. friends with strategic locations, creating a counterweight to the United States in Latin America. Considering Chinese control of the Panama Canal, other Chinese attempts to secure strategic locations around the world, Chinese rapid naval modernization beyond capabilities necessary at the Taiwan Strait, and its support to anti-U.S. regimes, policy makers in the government and on Capitol Hill should be able to connect the dots and realize what such moves by the Chinese really mean and how the United States should respond.
It seems clear that the Chinese government is interfering with U.S. efforts to contain openly hostile regimes in its hemisphere; a policy that should be considered in the overall U.S.-China relationship. Finally, Evan Ellis, a Latin American analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton, provides a great hint regarding what these Chinese moves may mean: “Chinese strategic thinking, from the writings of Sun Tzu to classic games such as ‘go’ emphasize the value of setting the stage, as much as the battle itself. The idea is to position oneself at an advantage in all possible realms -politically, militarily or physically-so that if a tangible confrontation must occur, the adversary simply cannot prevail.”[xxxi]
Yojiro Konno is a senior sociology major at Grinnell College, IA. He is interested in public policy and is currently an intern at the Center for Security Policy.
[i] “Cuba and China: the new face of an old relationship.” AllBusiness. September 22, 2006. (http://www.allbusiness.com/public-administration/national-security-international/3975916-1.html)
[ii] “Cuba-China Ties in Focus as Standing Committee Member Visits Fidel.” Transpacifica. June 27, 2008.
[iii] “Chinese presence, interests in Cuba growing.” The Miami Herald. June 24, 2007. (http://www.hemisferio.org/al-eeuu/boletines/02/75/pol_20.pdf)
[iv] “China and Cuba: Dangerous Liaison.” NewsMax. June 29, 2001. (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/6/28/211846.shtml)
[v] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[vi] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[vii] “China and Cuba: Dangerous Liaison.” NewsMax. June 29, 2001. (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/6/28/211846.shtml)
[xiii] “Venezuela to Launch Satellite.” August 18, 2008. The Press Association. (http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5jOiDMTD1_8Can9ZlVOBVbLstAd6Q)
[xiv] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xv] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xvi] “Venezuela to Launch Satellite.” August 18, 2008. The Press Association. (http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5jOiDMTD1_8Can9ZlVOBVbLstAd6Q)
[xvii] “China’s ‘Peaceful’ Invasion: Latin America attractive as market for arms sales.” Washington Times. November 20, 2005. (http://www.washtimes.com/news/2005/nov/20/20051120-124045-3471r/?page=3)
[xviii] Stephen Johnson. October 2005. “Balancing China’s Influence in Latin America.” Heritage Foundation. (http://www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/upload/84474_1.pdf)
[xix] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xx] “Castro And Cuba Dance With China How Cuba-China Relations Will Affect The U.S.” 2002. NBC6. (http://www.nbc6.net/hanktester/1497131/detail.html)
[xxi] Stephen Johnson. October 2005. “Balancing China’s Influence in Latin America.” Heritage Foundation. (http://www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/upload/84474_1.pdf)
[xxii] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xxiii] “Cuba and China: the new face of an old relationship.” AllBusiness. September 22, 2006. (http://www.allbusiness.com/public-administration/national-security-international/3975916-1.html)
[xxiv] Stephen Johnson. October 2005. “Balancing China’s Influence in Latin America.” Heritage Foundation. (http://www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/upload/84474_1.pdf)
[xxv] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xxvi] Fred Stakelbeck. “Sino-Cuba energy relations raise concern in Washington” Aug, 2006. (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/energywatch/oilandgas/features/article_1190927.php/Sino-Cuba_energy_relations_raise_concern_in_Washington?page=2)
[xxvii] Testimony of Albert Santoli. July 21, 2005. “China’s Strategic Reach into Latin America.” (http://www.uscc.gov/hearings/2005hearings/written_testimonies/05_07_21_22wrts/santoli_albert_wrts.htm)
[xxviii] “China’s ‘Peaceful’ Invasion: Latin America attractive as market for arms sales.” Washington Times. November 20, 2005. (http://www.washtimes.com/news/2005/nov/20/20051120-124045-3471r/?page=3)
[xxix] Menges, Constantine C. 2005. China: the gathering threat. Nelson Current.
[xxx] “China and Cuba: Dangerous Liaison.” NewsMax. June 29, 2001. (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/6/28/211846.shtml)
[xxxi] “China’s ‘Peaceful’ Invasion: Latin America attractive as market for arms sales.” Washington Times. November 20, 2005. (http://www.washtimes.com/news/2005/nov/20/20051120-124045-3471r/?page=3)
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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