U.S. officials say China has been conducting espionage in Cuba for years that was upgraded in 2019.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has responded to an alleged Chinese espionage operation based in Cuba, part of a larger effort by Beijing that Washington has tried to curb.
Monday’s statement came days after a US official confirmed that China had operated an intelligence unit in Cuba for years and upgraded it in 2019.
Blinken said on Monday that the Cuba operation was “one of a number of sensitive efforts by Beijing worldwide to expand its overseas logistics basing collection infrastructure” – briefed after taking office to US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Beijing’s aim was to “project and sustain military power over greater distances”, Blinken said.
On Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby pushed back on a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report that Cuba and China had reached a new preliminary agreement to build a spy base on the island nation for “several billion dollars.” .
“We have seen the report; It’s not right,” he told Reuters news agency, without specifying which was wrong.
A US official, in the background, speaks on Saturday told reporters that Beijing had long operated intelligence gathering facilities on the island, “this is an ongoing problem and not a new development”.
Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Coscio called the report “reprehensible speculation” on Twitter.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry spokesman accused the US of “spreading rumors and slander” last week.
Blinken, speaking alongside his Italian counterpart on Monday, did not mention the WSJ report or its content.
Instead, the top US diplomat referred to spying as a perennial issue, suggesting that the response from former US President Donald Trump’s administration was inadequate.
“It was our assessment that despite awareness of the basing effort and some efforts to address the challenge in past administrations, we had not made enough progress in this regard,” he said, “and we needed a more direct approach.”
Blinken, who is expected to visit Beijing later this month, said he “can’t go into every step” the Biden administration has taken to combat Chinese espionage.
But strategy begins with diplomacy. We have engaged governments that are considering hosting the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Base at higher levels. We have exchanged information with them,” he said.
“Our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed down this effort by the PRC, which is something we are monitoring very carefully,” he added.
Communist-controlled Cuba and China have had stable relations for many years and have undertaken trade and development initiatives together.
The United States has imposed an arms embargo on Cuba for decades despite regular condemnation by the United Nations General Assembly.
Meanwhile, Washington’s relationship with Beijing has become increasingly fraught in recent years, culminating in a complication over an alleged spy balloon that floated over the United States earlier in the year.
The recent revelations come as several Latin American countries have moved to formally recognize China in recent years, with critics accusing Beijing of facilitating financial aid to strengthen ties.