Havana, Washington deny WSJ report of China setting spy bases in Cuba

Web Desk
June 09, 2023

Report had claimed that spy facility would allow China to gather data from southeastern US

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American and Cuban flags can be seen outside the Versailles restaurant, in Miami Florida. — Reuters/File

As a report about China intending to establish a spy base in Cuba surfaced in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, government officials from Washington and Havana rejected the claims.

The report by the Journal stated that Cuba had finalised "a secret agreement" with China to "establish an eavesdropping facility on the island," which is roughly 100 miles from the US.

Such a spying facility would allow Beijing to gather electronic communications data from southeastern US, which houses many of its military bases, as well as monitors ship traffic, the newspaper said, citing US officials familiar with classified intelligence.

According to the Journal, the countries have reached an agreement in principle, with China to pay Cuba "several billion dollars" to setup the spying facility.

"We have seen the report. It's not accurate," John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters.

He said the US has had "real concerns" about China’s relationship with Cuba and was closely monitoring it.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a US Defense Department spokesperson, said: "We are not aware of China and Cuba developing a new type of spy station."

Chinese and US flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China January 21, 2021. — Reuters

In Havana, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio dismissed the report as "totally mendacious and unfounded", calling it a US fabrication meant to justify Washington's decades-old economic embargo against the island. He said Cuba rejects all foreign military presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said: "We are not aware of the case and as a result, we can't give a comment right now."

The newspaper reported that the agreement between the two countries has caused alarm in President Joe Biden's administration as it poses a new threat to US shores.

The Journal said: “US officials declined to provide more details about the proposed location of the listening station or whether construction had begun.”

The report came to the fore when China and the US are seeking to de-escalate bilateral tensions that took a toll after a suspected Chinese balloon entered the US before the military shot it down off the East Coast in February.

The bilateral ties have been severed over several disagreements on issues including the South China Sea, Taiwan and technology competition.

"We have had real concerns about China’s relationship with Cuba, and we have been concerned since day one of the administration about China’s activities in our hemisphere and around the world," Kirby said.

Serious threat?

In a statement, Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Marco Rubio, the panel's vice chair, said that they were "deeply disturbed" by the report and urged the Biden administration "to take steps to prevent this serious threat to our national security and sovereignty."

A former US intelligence official said that a Chinese listening post would be a “big deal,” marking an expansion of Beijing's spying capabilities and giving it access to signals intelligence.

If such a facility is built, the Chinese will use Cuba "as a beachhead for collection against the United States," said Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA officer.

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