China is planning to build a facility in Cuba that US officials fear may be capable of spying on the US by intercepting electronic signals from nearby US military and commercial facilities, according to three US officials familiar with the deal.
Beijing has built listening posts elsewhere and has a military presence in Cuba, but an eavesdropping station could give China a foothold about 100 miles off the Florida coast, from which it could potentially conduct surveillance operations against the United States. .
The planned facility’s proximity to the United States is of particular concern, officials said, because it could amplify Beijing’s technological capability to monitor sensitive operations in southeastern states, including several military bases.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports that Havana and Beijing are working together to target the United States and our people,” Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat of Virginia, and Marco Rubio, a Republican of Virginia, said at a press conference. Florida, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee. joint statement on Thursday. “The United States must respond to China’s continued blatant attacks on our nation’s security.”
The details of the negotiations between China and Cuba – which US officials have described on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information – come as the Biden administration has attempted to stabilize relations with Beijing, its main strategic rival, after a period of growing tensions. The Wall Street Journal first reported on plans to build a facility in Cuba.
President Biden’s National Security Council rejected reports of the planned facility. “This report is not accurate,” council spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, declining to go into further detail. “We have had real concerns about China’s relationship with Cuba and have been concerned since day one of the administration about China’s activities in our hemisphere and around the world.”
Mr. Kirby said the administration was closely monitoring such activities and taking steps to counter them. He added that “we remain confident that we will be able to meet all of our security commitments at home and in the region.”
Several diplomatic, military and climate engagements between the two countries were frozen last year following former spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Bilateral relations suffered a further setback earlier this year when a Chinese spy balloon was captured as it crossed into the United States, hovering near sensitive military sites.
The incident prompted a backlash from Congress and prompted Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, to cancel a planned trip to Beijing in February. Mr. Blinken plans to make the trip soon, according to US officials, after weeks of intense diplomacy that included a meeting between Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and a senior Chinese official, Wang Yi. It is unclear whether the latest revelations about the planned facility in Cuba will affect the visit yet again.
Representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
Carlos Fernández de Cossio, a foreign ministry official in Cuba, said reports of plans to build a Chinese spy base in the country were “totally false and unsubstantiated”. A representative of the Chinese embassy said Beijing was “not aware of the case”.
China and the United States regularly conduct mutual surveillance operations. The United States sends surveillance flights over the South China Sea, deploys military assets to allied host nations around the Pacific, and sells and supplies weapons to Taiwan, a democratic island that the Chinese government considers part of its territory.
US officials have accused China in recent years of ambitious hacking attacks against the US government and companies, trying to recruit agents and resources inside and outside the US, and monitoring and threatening Chinese dissidents abroad.
That Beijing appears to be pursuing a closer deal with Cuba is not in itself surprising, analysts say. The two countries have forged ever closer ties since the end of the Cold War. China is Cuba’s largest trading partner and plays a role in the island’s agricultural, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and infrastructure industries. Beijing also owns a significant portion of Havana’s external debt.
Cuba’s proximity to the United States has long made it a desirable strategic foothold for U.S. adversaries, perhaps most famously during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union made and then withdrew from plans to place nuclear missiles on the island nation. Today, the United States has a largely initial relationship with Cuba, which, like China, is controlled by a communist government.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were frozen shortly after Fidel Castro’s communist regime came to power in 1959; relationships were only fully restored during President Barack Obama’s tenure. President Donald J. Trump reversed part of that move by reinstating some travel bans on Cuba and re-designating the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Cuban officials have asked the Biden administration to rescind this designation, but it has remained in place. However, Mr. Biden has relaxed some of Mr. Trump’s other restrictions. Cuba also continues to consider the US base at Guantánamo Bay, founded in the early 20th century, as an illegal occupation.