- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

From combined dispatches

Cuban President Fidel Castro flatly denied yesterday that Havana was importing arms from China, calling reports of such shipments "lies."
It was the first official Cuban reaction to a report in The Washington Times last week that China was shipping arms and explosives to Cuba. The report concluded that the shipments signaled increased military cooperation between the two communist states.
"For more than 30 years, Cuba has not imported a single weapon from China," Mr. Castro said in a television appearance broadcast live.
Furthermore, Mr. Castro said, Cuba in fact had bought no arms since the collapse of the Soviet bloc at the start of the 1990s.
"Since the beginning of the 'special period, more than 10 years ago, Cuba has not invested a single cent in arms," he said, using the official term for the economic crisis Cuba suffered after the collapse of its ally, the Soviet Union.
The Cuban communist leader said, however, that three Chinese ships did arrive to unload supplies for Cubas military such as textiles, beans and rice, but also included explosive material to be used in the construction industry. Mr. Castro provided what sounded like a manifest of the three ships cargo.
"There you have the great arms shipment," he said.
Mr. Castro fired a diatribe against the report, calling it a "little campaign" by a "reactionary organ."
Mr. Castros detailing of the arrivals of three Chinese ships and admission that the second of the three carried explosives aboard confirmed the essential contours of The Washington Times report, which was based on accounts by U.S. intelligence officials.
According to the June 12 report, the three military shipments were traced from China to the Cuban port of Mariel over the past several months. All the arms were aboard vessels belonging to the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco), say U.S. intelligence officials.
The latest shipment took place in December. That arms delivery coincided with the visit to Cuba in late December by Chinas military chief of staff, Gen. Fu Quanyou. Gen. Fu signed a military cooperation agreement with Havana aimed at modernizing Cubas outdated Russian weapons.
U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said details of the arms shipments are sketchy but all involved a "known Chinese arms dealer" who arranged the transfers.
One of the cargoes was described as dual-use explosives and detonation cord. The explosives were said to be "military-grade" material.
On the day of the disclosure, the State Department confirmed that China had been delivering military equipment to Cuba, but signaled that the weapons were not "lethal" enough to trigger sanctions against Beijing.
"We are very much concerned with this PLA cooperation and movement of military equipment into Cuba," said James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs.
The next day, Chinas government denied selling weapons to Cuba.
Cuban newspapers carried Beijings angry denial but withheld an official Cuban reaction until yesterday.
In Washington, Zhang Yuanyuan, a Chinese Embassy spokesman, said in an interview at the time that Beijing had not shipped weapons to the communist island off the U.S. coast.
"China and Cuba have diplomatic relations, and the two countries militaries have relations," Mr. Zhang said. "For some years, China has supplied the Cuban military with logistics items, never arms."
He declined to specify what type of equipment was transferred, but foreshadowed Mr. Castros comments by saying "explosives could be used for civilian purposes, to clear some mine shaft."
The issue of economic sanctions against China and Cosco arises because of a 1996 amendment to the 1962 Foreign Assistance Act, which requires that economic sanctions be imposed on any nation or company that provides lethal military assistance to a nation designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Cuba is on the State Departments list of nine nations designated as supporters of global terrorism.
Mr. Castro, who spoke on state TVs nightly "round table" a two-hour program that began during the saga over Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez and has since been institutionalized as a mouthpiece for official views took apparent glee in listing precisely what had been in the three shipments.
The first, he said, did indeed include equipment for Cubas Revolutionary Armed Forces. But it consisted of more than 1 million cubic meters of fabrics, 5,000 pairs of boots, more than 3 million buttons, nearly 100,000 needles, large quantities of thread and various items of medical equipment all donated by China.
The second boat brought several tons of materials for use in explosives for Cubas construction ministry in the building of tunnels, sewage channels and other works, as well as a cargo of beans, Mr. Castro said.
The third of the three boats, all of which came to Cuba last year, was bringing only foodstuffs rice and beans for the local population.
Mr. Castro said that as well as "industrial quantities" of munitions, Cuba retained the capacity to lay a network of anti-tank and anti-infantry mines, which was why Havana had not signed a global anti-mine treaty.
"What do want? To invade us without any problem, march all over the country without any problem?" he asked.

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