China reached a secret agreement with Cuba to open a spy base on the island, in Beijing's latest display of disrespect to the Biden administration, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials familiar with the highly classified intelligence.
Approximately 100 miles from Florida, an electronic eavesdropping facility would allow Chinese intelligence operatives to intercept communications throughout the southeastern U.S., where a number of military bases are located. There are 21 U.S. military bases in Florida, including the headquarters of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.
The outpost would also allow the Chinese to monitor U.S. ship traffic.
Officials with knowledge of the matter told the Journal that China agreed to pay impoverished Cuba several billion dollars to allow it to set up the eavesdropping station and that an agreement in principle had been reached.
The Biden administration considers China its biggest economic and military adversary, and the intelligence about the spy base has reportedly set off alarm in Washington due to the proximity of Cuba to the U.S.
"While I cannot speak to this specific report, 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," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. "We monitor it closely, take steps to counter it, and remain confident that we are able to meet all our security commitments at home, in the region, and around the world."
The intelligence, which U.S. officials described as convincing to the Journal, reveals that the base would enable China to conduct signals intelligence, which could include monitoring emails, phone calls, and satellite transmissions.
The Chinese Embassy and the Cuban Embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment.
The officials the Journal spoke with declined to give more details about the potential location of the facility or how far along construction had progressed.
The highly classified intelligence on the outpost comes as the Biden administration works to smooth over U.S.-China relations after the flight of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. this year sparked months of animosity.
Analysts told the Journal that Beijing is likely to argue that the eavesdropping facility is warranted because of U.S. military and intelligence activities close to China, such as Navy ships that sail through the Taiwan Strait and military aircraft that conduct electronic surveillance over the South China Sea.
Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Journal that a listening facility in Cuba would signal that "China is prepared to do the same in America's backyard."
"Establishing this facility signals a new, escalatory phase in China's broader defense strategy," he said. "It's a bit of a game changer."
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