CHINA WATCHChina’s Ties to Cuba and Growing Presence in Latin America Raise Security Concerns in Washington, Even as Leaders Try to Ease Tensions

By Leland Lazarus

Published 6 July 2023

There have been news reports that China made deals with Cuba to set up an electronic eavesdropping station on the island nation, just 90 miles from Florida and build a military training facility there. The China-Cuba connection is just one example of how the Chinese government and Chinese companies have been expanding their influence on America’s doorstep for decades. Not just through trade and investment, but also through espionage, military, law enforcement and drug activities. Such activities will greatly affect U.S. national security for years to come.

There is a push by leaders in Washington and Beijing to get U.S.-China relations back on track. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with President Xi Jinping in China in June 2023 to reopen the lines of communication between the countries. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is spending four days in China, beginning July 6, 2023, to try to stabilize U.S.-China economic ties.

But work to steady security issues between the two countries, a longtime point of contention, may have a longer horizon.

In fact, the U.S. military’s decision to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been flying over the country in February 2023 derailed the scheduled diplomatic trip Blinken planned for China earlier in the year.

Now there are news reports that China made deals with Cuba to set up an electronic eavesdropping station on the island nation, just 90 miles from Florida – something Cuban government officials have denied – and to build a military training facility there. Such moves reflect efforts by China to grow its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A Biden administration official in June said China’s spying from Cuba is an ongoing issue that predates the president’s time in office and that U.S. intelligence knew China had upgraded existing espionage facilities in Cuba in 2019.

As a researcher of China-Latin America relations and a former U.S. government official, I have seen firsthand China’s growing influence in Latin America and the Caribbean and am concerned about its far-reaching implications for U.S. national security.

Too Close for Comfort
China’s planned spy base and military training facility in Cuba would be located near the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay, home to several U.S. military facilities like U.S. Southern Command in Miami and U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command both in Tampa, along with their various component commands.

The facility would allow Chinese intelligence officers to better intercept sensitive military information transmitted between U.S. military commands, track senior U.S. diplomatic and military leaders as they travel across the region, monitor U.S. naval and commercial ship movement and gain details about U.S. military exercises, conferences and training with various Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The facility could also bolster China’s use of telecommunications networks to spy on U.S. citizens.

U.S. officials have long suspected Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE of setting up servers and network equipment around the world, including in Cuba, to help the Chinese government collect sensitive information about local government leaders and private citizens.