Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
June 8, 2023
Today’s US News headlines are sensational: ”Prospect of Chinese spy base in Cuba unsettles Washington,” “Is China’s latest provocation a new spy base in Cuba?” “Here’s why that would concern US, China to build spy base in Cuba, WSJ says; US and Cuba cast doubt on report”…
Conservative US politicians’ reactions are as expected: U.S. lawmakers on Thursday called on the administration to intervene. “We urge the Biden administration to take steps to prevent this serious threat to our national security and sovereignty,” their statement said.
But the best one can make out of these news reports, as of now, it is just a plan. Further, Cuba is a sovereign state and if they agree with China, another sovereign state, about a Chinese base in Cuba: it’s their rights to do that.
Then we quote a news report, dated December 7, 2020, from Taiwan: “Taiwan, US count on giant radar system for early warning if PLA attacks.” It should be noted that mainland China and Taiwan are separated by the Taiwan strait: the narrowest width of the strait is only 130 km or 81 miles.
What is the big fuss here? The only suspicion with these US news report is that it may torpedo Secretary Blinken’s trip to China!
- It would play a key role in an attack across the strait, or if China’s nuclear submarines launched missiles at US bases in Japan and Guam, analysts say
- Critics have called it a facility built for the United States and questioned the cost.
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Published: 6:15am, 7 Dec 2020
Thu, June 8, 2023 at 2:38 PM PDT
Washington — Cuba may allow China to establish a facility on its territory capable of conducting electronic surveillance on the United States, CBS News has confirmed, a plan that would add notable strain to already tense relations between Washington and Beijing.
While China and the U.S. routinely surveil each other — and others — using satellites, overhead flights and other means, a Chinese outpost positioned roughly 100 miles from the Florida coast would undoubtedly inflame sensitivities that were already stoked by the U.S. military shootdown of a Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed American territory in February.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that Havana and Beijing had arrived at a secret agreement in which Beijing would pay “several billion dollars” for permission to build the facility. Sources who spoke with CBS News said intelligence indicated the arrangement had been discussed in principle, but they were not aware of a final deal being reached.
The Cuban government strongly denied any agreement to house a spy base had been reached with China. Carlos Fernández de Cossio, a vice minister of foreign affairs, issued a statement calling the Wall Street Journal story “totally false and unfounded.” He accused U.S. officials of fabricating the allegation to justify the continued blockade of the island.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said reports of an agreement between the two countries were “not accurate.” A senior administration official added that the Biden administration has had “real concerns” about China’s relationship with Cuba, and had been “concerned since day one of the Administration” about China’s activities worldwide.
“We are closely monitoring it and taking steps to counter it. We remain confident that we are able to meet all our security commitments at home and in the region,” the official said.
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday called on the administration to intervene.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports that Havana and Beijing are working together to target the United States and our people. The United States must respond to China’s ongoing and brazen attacks on our nation’s security,” Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement. “We must be clear that it would be unacceptable for China to establish an intelligence facility within 100 miles of Florida and the United States, in an area also populated with key military installations and extensive maritime traffic.”
U.S. officials have long warned that China would seek to expand its influence abroad, including by offering material incentives to developing or impoverished countries.
The public revelation of the potential plan comes at a highly sensitive moment in U.S.-China relations.
“We cannot speak to this specific report,” a State Department spokesperson said of the plan for China to establish a presence in Cuba, adding, “we are well aware of — and have spoken many times to — the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to invest in infrastructure around the world that may have military purposes, including in this hemisphere.”
Josh Meyer, USA TODAY
Thu, June 8, 2023 at 11:42 AM PDT
Why a China base in Cuba would be significant
The Journal, citing “U.S. officials familiar with highly classified intelligence,” said the two countries had reached an agreement in principle, and that the recent development has sparked alarm within the Biden administration, which regards Beijing as its most significant economic and military rival.
What are the US and China saying?
By Thursday afternoon, POLITICO offered a slightly different take on the story, reporting that China “was in direct conversations with Cuba to set up a base on the island,” suggesting that the deal had not been finalized.
But in an apparent dig at the United States, China’s ambassador to Cuba, Ma Hui, tweeted a reference to the Journal story and said, “The world knows very well who is the ‘eavesdropping’ empire.”
Why a Chinese spy hub in America’s backyard would matter
Such an eavesdropping outpost would allow China’s technologically sophisticated intelligence services − which are operated by its military − to vacuum up electronic communications at American military bases in the southeastern U.S. and to monitor U.S. ship traffic throughout the strategically important region, said Craig Singleton, a former U.S. diplomat and senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
China could collect intelligence from emails, phone calls, satellite transmissions and other communications, according to Singleton and other China analysts.
Worse than the Chinese spy balloon?
Douglas London, a retired CIA senior operations officer and Chief of Station who served for 34 years in foreign posts, suggested that China has been getting this type of intelligence all along, although more indirectly.
‘You’re in our waters, now we’re in yours.‘ “
What’s China’s end game?
The bigger picture is what worries former U.S. China hands and other analysts the most. They say that any effort to base an intelligence-collection platform in Cuba is part of a much broader strategic effort by Beijing to expand its influence around the world and project military power in areas once controlled by the U.S. and allies like Taiwan.
China has been looking for military bases in the Middle East and on the western and eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, Allen said.
Beijing has denied any interest in establishing a basing foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
Bad for diplomacy?
News of the alleged new spy base comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and Beijing.
Even so, the Biden administration has tried to tamp down tensions. And there is talk that Secretary of State Antony Blinken could travel to Beijing later this year for diplomatic talks that the U.S. cancelled as a result of its Feb. 4 shootdown of the spy balloon off the South Carolina coast.
Matt Spetalnick and Dave Sherwood
Thu, June 8, 2023 at 6:21 AM PDT
WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) -China has reached a secret deal with Cuba to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island roughly 100 miles (160 km) from Florida, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday, but the U.S. and Cuban governments cast strong doubt on the report.
In Havana, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio dismissed the report as “totally mendacious and unfounded,” calling it a U.S. 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.
It could also raise questions about a trip to China that U.S. officials say Secretary of State Antony Blinken is planning in coming weeks. Washington’s top diplomat had earlier scrapped the visit over the spy balloon incident.
Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Marco Rubio, the panel’s vice chair, said in a statement 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.”
However, the U.S. has a long history of spying on China in its own neighborhood. It is widely reported to have used Taiwan as a listening post for the mainland and regularly flies spy planes in the South China Sea, angering Beijing.
The head of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau told the island’s parliament in April that Taiwan was conducting real-time encrypted intelligence sharing with Five Eyes partners, which includes the U.S.
White House alarm as China strikes spy base deal with Cuba
Thu, June 8, 2023 at 7:01 AM PDT