WASHINGTON (AP) — China has been operating a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019, part of a global effort by Beijing to improve its intelligence-gathering capabilities, according to a Biden administration official.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said US intelligence had been aware of China’s spying out of Cuba for some time and increased efforts to set up intelligence operations around the country had globe.
The Biden administration has stepped up efforts to thwart the Chinese push to expand its espionage operations and believes it has made some progress through diplomacy and other unspecified measures, according to the official who was working with US intelligence on the matter was familiar.
The existence of the Chinese spy base was later confirmed The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that China and Cuba had reached an agreement in principle to build an electronic listening station on the island. The Journal reported that China planned to pay cash-strapped Cuba billions of dollars as part of the negotiations.
The White House called the report inaccurate.
“I saw that press report, it’s not accurate,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council said Thursday in an MSNBC interview. “What I can tell you is that we have been concerned about China’s influence activities around the world since day one of this administration; Certainly we are watching this very, very closely in this hemisphere and in this region.”
US intelligence has determined that Chinese espionage from Cuba is a “permanent” matter and is “not a new development,” the government official said.
Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío also dismissed the report in a Twitter post on Saturday.
“The libelous speculation continues and is apparently promoted by certain media to cause harm and concern without following minimal communication patterns and without providing any data or evidence to substantiate its dissemination,” he wrote.
Shortly after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, President Joe Biden’s national security team was briefed by intelligence agencies on a series of sensitive Chinese efforts around the world, in which Beijing was considering expanding logistics, base and gathering infrastructure as part of the People’s Liberation Army attempt continued its influence, the official said.
Chinese officials examined sites in the Atlantic Ocean, Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and the Indo-Pacific. Efforts also included investigations into existing collection facilities in Cuba, and China conducted an expansion of its spy operations on the island in 2019, the official said.
Tensions between the US and China were tense during Biden’s tenure.
The relationship may have hit rock bottom last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited democratically-ruled Taiwan. That visit, the first by an incumbent speaker of the House of Representatives since Newt Gingrich in 1997, prompted China, which claims the island as its territory, to launch military exercises around Taiwan.
US-China relations were further strained earlier in the year after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that was crossing the United States.
Beijing was also angered by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s stopover in the United States last month, which also included a meeting with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The speaker received the Taiwanese leader at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California.
Still, the White House has been eager to resume high-level communications between the two sides.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken is planning a trip to China next week. a trip that was cancelled As the balloon flew over the U.S., Blinken expects to be in Beijing on June 18 for meetings with senior Chinese officials, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Friday because neither the State Department nor the Chinese Foreign Ministry said they would so far have confirmed trip.
CIA Director William Burns met in Beijing with his counterpart Last month. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart in Vienna over two days in May and made it clear that the government wanted to improve high-level communication with the Chinese side.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently spoke briefly to Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister at the opening dinner of a security forum in Singapore. China used to have rejected Austin’s request to meet on the sidelines of the forum.
AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.