Colombia recently detained the Chinese vessel Da Dan Xia after it entered the port of Cartagena to unload part of its cargo. Based on an anonymous tip, Colombian officials searched the boat and found a boatload, so to speak, of weapons: 100 tons of gunpowder, just under three million detonators, 99 projectiles and approximately 3,000 cannon shells. All destined for Cuba. The ship’s documentation listed none of these goodies correctly, instead calling them spare parts and chemicals, and so the captain of the ship was hauled off the boat and arrested.
The Cubans aren’t saying anything and the Chinese are saying stupid things.
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the ship had been involved in “normal trade co-operation”. Hua Chunying said the ship was carrying ordinary military supplies to Cuba and was not in violation of any international obligations.
Of course, this does not explain why the items were not accurately described. But I can tell you the likely reason for that: Colombia is a signatory to the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Material. That means that a transit permit would have been required for the ship to enter a Colombian port loaded up with this cargo. And, guess what? China did not want to bother getting a transit permit, largely, I suppose, because it did not want the United States, or anyone else, to know that it was selling this stuff to Cuba.