Australia’s northern neighbour East Timor recently knocked back Chinese offers to build a free radar to monitor shipping, on the suspicion that Beijing actually wanted to build a spy base in the tiny nation.
The allegation is contained in WikiLeaks cables which, for the moment at least, have been handed exclusively to Fairfax newspapers.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the 2008-dated cable from America’s Dili (the capital of East Timor) embassy said Chinese defence companies had offered to build a radar installation to “monitor shipping in the strategic Wetar strait”. As well as being a popular lane for general shipping, the strait is believed to be a corridor for US Navy vessels between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with traffic including nuclear submarines.
The offer came free of charge, on the condition that the base would be staffed by Chinese technicians, the cable says. This highly attractive price tag, and the condition attached to it, made East Timor’s deputy prime minister Jose Guterres believe China hoped to set up a spy base in his country.
The radars, the US cable says, would have extended China’s radar perimeter “deep into South East Asia”.
East Timor rejected the Chinese offer, however the country has accepted some military assistance from Beijing. Last year, China provided two superannuated patrol boats to try to deal with illegal fishing in its waters. ®