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Cuba spy base revelations may jeopardize Blinken China visit

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)
June 16, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China has reacted forcefully to reports of an alleged Chinese “electronic eavesdropping facility” on Cuba, claiming that the “smearing” of China jeopardizes an anticipated Beijing visit by U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken.

Wall Street Journal story on Thursday last week claimed that China has invested in Cuba with the purpose of establishing a listening post there.

The report was first denied by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby as “not accurate” but later confirmed on Saturday, by an anonymous Biden administration official, who told Politico that China has operated a spy base out of Cuba since at least 2019, adding, “This is an issue that this administration inherited.”

The unnamed official said that the base, which can pick up U.S. military and commercial signals, is “an ongoing issue … not a new development.”

China pushes back

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Monday described the comments by the U.S. official as “false information.”

“Over the past two days, we have seen the U.S. government and media releasing a great deal of inconsistent information on the so-called allegation … This is a display of the ‘self-contradictory USA’,” Wang said at a regular news briefing.

Chinese media claimed that the “media hype” and “smearing” of China put the thawing of Sino-U.S. relations at risk.

“The U.S. had unilaterally announced that top diplomat Antony Blinken planned to visit China in February of this year, but it was postponed due to the so-called ‘balloon incident,’” the online version of state mouthpiece the People’s Daily said.

“This time U.S media once again claims Blinken may soon be visiting China, while broadcasting ‘fake news’ that China intends to build an eavesdropping facility in Cuba.”

Blinken’s visit is tentatively scheduled for June 18 with hopes it might bring about a thaw in China-U.S. relations, but China has yet to agree to the visit and has rebuffed many recent overtures from Washington.

‘U.S. politics to blame’

Chinese press continued that it was difficult not to suspect that “some forces in the U.S. political arena … do not want Sino-U.S. relations to ease [and] are constantly undermining the relationship between the two countries.”

The English-language tabloid Global Times added that the latest U.S. developments recalled “the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 – one of the fiercest scenes of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – [and] could be a new farce staged by the media and some U.S. politicians as ‘good cop, bad cop’ with the purpose of gaining the ‘upper hand’ and pressuring China in any possible dialogue,” a reference to Antony Blinken’s possible visit to China.”

Improving Sino-U.S. relations still faces great challenges, Chinese media chorused.

Han Yang, a former Chinese Foreign Ministry diplomat now in Australia, told RFA that the U.S. had left itself open to the Chinese move by allowing itself to be held hostage by the exiled Cuban community, providing Beijing with an opportunity to set up operations on Florida’s doorstep.  

“I think … the embargoes have been proved counterproductive and created opportunities for China to invest in Cuba,” Yang said. “The sanctions don’t make any foreign policy sense as the U.S. trades with many nations with worse human rights records than Cuba.”

Two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee released a joint statement Thursday, even before the spy base was anonymously confirmed, reported Politico.

“The United States must respond to China’s ongoing and brazen attacks on our nation’s security. We must be clear that it would be unacceptable for China to establish an intelligence facility within 100 miles [160 kilometers] of Florida and the United States, in an area also populated with key military installations and extensive maritime traffic,” senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio said.

An expert on the U.S. told the Global Times on Sunday that while China is open for talks and will not put up barriers to communication, it was still possible that the Biden administration and US politicians could trip over themselves.

“It’s a highly controversial topic in the US about how to deal with China, and obviously, the Biden administration’s decision-making on the topic is under heavy impact of the U.S.’ internal politics,” said Lu Xiang, an expert on U.S. studies and research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.  

“By spreading groundless accusations, the Biden administration is actually trying to legitimize its close reconnaissance missions and spy activities around China’s territorial waters and airspace,” Lu said.