- - Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Chinese cargo ship has been detained by Colombian authorities for illegally shipping a large amount of arms to Cuba.

The container ship, called the Da Dan Xia, is owned by the Chinese government-run shipping giant China Ocean Shipping Co. and was passing through Colombia on Saturday, en route to Cuba. Colombian authorities received a tip from an unidentified source and boarded the ship.

The Chinese captain insisted that the vessel carried only chemical products, machinery parts and grain products, as the officially filed customs documents indicated. But a search beneath the legal cargo revealed a large cache of illegal arms, including 99 rockets, 3,000 cannon shells, 100 tons of military-grade dynamite and 2.6 million detonators.

The illegal cache is believed to be part of a covert Chinese military operation to provide aid for the Castro regime in Havana, as many of the wooden crates containing the illegal materiel were marked with NORINCO — one of China’s primary state-owned arms makers and dealers.

The Da Dan Xia is a 28,000-ton ocean-going, self-loading container ship first commissioned in 2009. It measures 360 feet in length, with a 75-foot beam. The ship paid a port call at the Colombian port of Cartagena to unload some industrial metal pipes when the Colombian police boarded the vessel and conducted an investigation of the crew and a search of the vessel that lasted two days, which resulted in the discovery of the hidden illegal arms.

Colombian authorities issued a statement Wednesday announcing the arrest of the Da Dan Xia’s captain, Wu Hong, for illegal arms trafficking.

“The documentation that the captain had in regards to the merchandise that was being transported did not correspond to what we found,” Colombian Attorney General Luis Gonzalez told the press.

In Beijing, Chinese government spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that the cache discovered by the Colombian authorities was part of a legal arms export deal with Cuba. “It does not violate any Chinese laws, nor does it violate any of China’s promised international obligations,” Ms. Hua insisted. “The shipping was an entirely normal cooperative project of arms trade” with Cuba.

“The Chinese government is in communications with the Colombian side and will provide all necessary assistance to all Chinese citizens involved in this incident in order to protect their legal rights,” the spokeswoman declared.

Ms. Hua did not explain why such “legal” arms shipments to Cuba had to be hidden and left off the official cargo list shown to the Colombian authorities.

THE FALL OF THE PLA’S NEXT ‘BIG TIGER’

All signs indicate that Gen. Guo Boxiong, one of the two former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, will be the next “big tiger” to fall as President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign moves deeper inside the PLA.

The Central Military Commission is China’s highest military command, directly under the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. While the commission’s chairman is always the civilian supreme leader, the two vice chairmen, both senior generals, are in effect the two highest-ranking military officers in the communist country.

During most of President Hu Jintao’s tenure from 2002 to 2012, the two vice chairmen were Gen. Xu Caihou and Gen. Guo.

Gen. Xu was purged in June by Mr. Xi for taking bribes “of an enormous amount” in exchange for senior officers’ promotions. The promotions were approved during the general’s time as Central Military Commission vice chairman from 2004 to 2013, when he was in charge of the PLA’s personnel decisions.

Gen. Guo has been widely rumored to be the next “big tiger” to be purged for corruption because most of the crimes charged against Gen. Xu involved procedures that would require concurrence from Gen. Guo.

For months, the tightly controlled Chinese press has been hinting at Mr. Xi’s resolve not to stop with the purge and imprisonment of Gen. Xu, and anyone who has held or is holding senior office inside the PLA would be subject to investigation and court-martial.

The most convincing evidence that Gen. Guo may be facing imminent arrest has emerged in the past couple of weeks.

Late last month, China’s state media reported that Maj. Gen. Guo Zhenggang of the PLA was arrested on unspecified charges. Guo Zhenggang is Gen. Guo’s son, and some of China’s leading newspapers went out of their way in their reporting to note the family connection.

A few days later, Guo Boquan, Gen. Guo’s brother, who is a chief of a civil affairs office in Shaanxi province, was also reported to have been arrested on unspecified charges.

Inside China first reported Gen. Guo’s potential prosecution in November.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_miles.

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