Chinese Whispers: The Great Coco Island Mystery
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Tuesday, November 29, 2022


Chinese Whispers: The Great Coco Island Mystery

By Andrew Selth JANUARY, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.1


How a single news agency report led to the accepted belief that China has a sophisticated intelligence post in Burmese waters


For almost 15 years, there has been a steady stream of newspaper stories, scholarly monographs and books that have referred inter alia to a large Chinese signals intelligence (SIGINT) station o­n Burma’s Great Coco Island, in the Andaman Sea. Yet it would now appear that there is no such base o­n this island, nor ever has been. The explosion of this myth highlights the dearth of reliable information about strategic developments in Burma since the creation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1988.



The Great Coco Island mystery seems to stem from a report issued by the Kyodo News Agency on September 17, 1992. Citing diplomatic sources in Beijing, Kyodo claimed that China was building a radar facility o­n Burma’s Coco islands, under a secret agreement with the SLORC. The Kyodo report was picked up by Reuters the next day, and repeated in the US newspaper The Estimate the following week. From there, the story quickly found its way into a wide range of newspapers and military journals.


Questioned about the Kyodo report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry flatly denied it. When asked to make a comment, the SLORC declined either to confirm or deny the report. o­n October 22, 1992, however, The Estimate published a follow-up story citing a “highly-placed, knowledgeable US military source,” who stated that Chinese personnel had been seen o­n Hainggyi Island in the Irrawaddy delta, where another secret base was believed to be under construction.

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