According to a Biden administration official, China has been operating a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019 as part of a global effort of Beijing to upgrade its intelligence-gathering capabilities.
The official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity and was not authorized to speak in public, said the U.S. intelligence community has been aware for some time of China spying from Cuba and a broader effort to establish intelligence-gathering operations around the globe.
The Biden administration has ramped up efforts to block the Chinese push to expand its spying operations. It believes it has made some progress through unspecified actions and diplomacy, according to an official familiar with U.S. intelligence on the issue.
The existence of the spy base was confirmed after The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Cuba and China had agreed to build an electronic eavesdropping station on the island. The Journal reported that China planned to pay Cuba, which is cash-strapped, billions of dollars as part of the negotiations.
The White House referred to the report as inaccurate.
“I’ve seen that press report; it’s not accurate,” said John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesman, in an MSNBC interview Thursday. “What I can tell you is that we have been concerned since day one of this administration about China’s influence activities around the world; certainly in this hemisphere and in this region, we’re watching this very, very closely.”
The United States Intelligence community had determined that spying by the Chinese from Cuba has been an “ongoing” matter and is “not a new development,” said the administration official.
In a Saturday Twitter post, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, also refuted the report.
“The slanderous speculation continues, evidently promoted by certain media to cause harm and alarm without observing minimum patterns of communication and without providing data or evidence to support what they disseminate,” he wrote.
President Joe Biden’s national security team received a briefing from the intelligence community shortly after he took office in January 2021 about several sensitive Chinese efforts across the globe where China weighed expanding basing, logistics, and collection infrastructure as part of the People’s Liberation Army’s attempt to further its influence, said the official.
Chinese officials searched for sites spanning Latin America, the Middle East, Indo-Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, and Central Asia. The effort included looking at existing collection facilities in Cuba. The official confirmed that China upgraded its spying operation on the island in 2019.
Tensions between China and the U.S. have continued to grow throughout Biden’s term.
The U.S.-China relationship soured further after Pelosi’s visit last year to Taiwan
The relationship hit a significant bump last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which is democratically governed. The visit, which was the first by a sitting speaker of the House since 1997 when Newt Gingrich visited, led China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, to launch military training exercises around Taiwan.
China-U.S. relations further strained this year after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had crossed the U.S.
Beijing was also made angry by the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen’s stopover in the U.S. last month, which included an encounter with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The speaker hosted the leader at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in southern California.
Despite the tense relations, the White House has been eager to resume high-level communications between the two sides.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to travel to China next week, a trip that was canceled during the time the Chinese spy balloon was traveling across the U.S. Blinken expects to be in Beijing on June 18 for meetings with senior Chinese officials, according to anonymous federal officials, because the trip has been confirmed neither the Chinese foreign ministry nor the State Department.
William Burns, CIA Director, met in Beijing with his counterpart last month. Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, met with his Chinese counterpart in Vienna over two days in May and clarified that the administration wanted to improve high-level communications with the Chinese side.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently briefly spoke with China’s minister of national defense, Li Shangfu, at the opening dinner of a security forum in Singapore. China had rejected Austin’s request for a meeting on the forum’s sidelines earlier.