A spokesman for the White House National Security Council (NSC) has flatly rejected a report which claimed that China and Cuba have reached an agreement in principle to host a surveillance post.
John Kirby appeared on MSNBC shortly after the publication of The Wall Street Journal’s report on Thursday; the report claimed that the cash-strapped Cuban government had accepted an offer by Beijing to set up a listening post on Cuban soil, within range of some US military installations. The article went on to claim that such a listening post could theoretically scoop up communications across much of the southeastern United States.
“Officials familiar with the matter said that China has agreed to pay cash-strapped Cuba several billion dollars to allow it to build the eavesdropping station and that the two countries had reached an agreement in principle,” read the report.
It continued: “An eavesdropping facility in Cuba, roughly 100 miles from Florida, would allow Chinese intelligence services to scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern U.S., where many military bases are located, and monitor U.S. ship traffic.”
But Mr Kirby said that the Journal’s assertions were inaccurate when confronted by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
"China and Cuba have now reached a secret agreement, we’re told, for China to establish an electronic facility which would allow Chinese intelligence agents to scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern US,” Mitchell began to Mr Kirby.
“I’ve seen that press report, it’s not accurate,” Mr Kirby contended. “What I can tell you is that we have been concerned since day one of this administration about China’s influence activities around the world, certainly in this hemisphere and in this region, we’re watching this very, very closely.”
Mitchell tried again: “You’re saying it’s not accurate that they’re planning this?”
“I’m saying we’ve seen the report, it’s not accurate,” said Mr Kirby in response.
It was a much stronger statement than he himself had made to the Journal initially. The paper quotes him as saying in response to their request for comment, “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.”
“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,” he added in that statement.
At a news briefing on Thursday, a spokesman for the Pentagon echoed Mr Kirby’s denial.
“I’ve seen that reporting, I can tell you, based on the information that we have, that that is not accurate,” said Air Force Brig Gen Pat Ryder.
The report’s publication comes at a time of tension between Washington and Beijing, with both sides accusing the other of purposefully inflammatory actions. Some of those actions have included trips to Taiwan by senior US officials, which have enraged the Chinese government as they mark the US’s continued defiance of China’s claims of sovereignty over the island.
It also comes as many in the US, particularly on the left, argue that the time has come for an end to the US embargo of Cuba, the socialist nation shunned by the US since the Cold War, when it was firmly allied with the Soviet Union. The decades-long trade prohibition has left Cuba’s economy in a delicate state, and many argue serves no purpose in the modern era.
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