Chinese Whispers: The Great Coco Island Mystery
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, July 03, 2022
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Chinese Whispers: The Great Coco Island Mystery


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


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Each time the reports were cited in books and reputable journals they gained credibility, and soon the existence of a large Chinese base o­n Great Coco Island was widely accepted as an established fact.

 

Throughout this entire period, Burma consistently denied that it had permitted China to establish any bases o­n its soil. The SLORC conceded that China was helping Burma to upgrade its civil and military infrastructure, but repeatedly stated that there was no Chinese facility o­n Great Coco Island. Beijing too issued formal denials, characterizing the story as a collection of unsubstantiated rumors. The Burmese government’s reputation was so poor, however, that its denials were not believed. China’s statements o­n the subject were also dismissed.

 

So persistent were Indian claims of Chinese bases in Burma, however, that they threatened to harm the relationship between Rangoon and New Delhi that began to gather pace in the late 1990s. In 1999, Burma’s then powerful intelligence chief, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, invited the Indian defense attache in Rangoon to visit any place in the country where the attache believed Chinese forces were stationed, to verify the military regime’s statements.

 

This invitation does not seem to have been taken up, but in a later attempt to settle India’s concerns, the regime (known since 1997 as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC) apparently permitted India to conduct a surveillance flight over Great Coco Island, to see for itself that there was no Chinese SIGINT base there. It is difficult to imagine such a flight being permitted if the SPDC had anything important to hide.

 

Finally, in August 2005, India’s chief of naval staff told reporters that he believed the Burmese when they said there was no Chinese presence in the Coco Islands. Two months later he stated categorically that India had “firm information that there is no listening post, radar or surveillance station belonging to the Chinese o­n Coco Islands.”

It is conceivable that a small intelligence collection station o­nce existed o­n Great Coco Island, but was then dismantled.



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