China's Presence in Cuba Poses Huge Threat to US

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The Chinese have been running an intelligence base in Cuba for some time, and they only upgraded it in 2019, according to the Biden administration’s reaction to the WSJ report.

China’s enhanced intelligence-gathering and new military presence in Cuba shows Beijing simply no longer cares what the US thinks.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has comprehensively invested in a cash-strapped Cuba in exchange for access to an electronic intelligence collection (ELINT) facility, and negotiated an agreement to train Chinese soldiers on the north side of the island.

Washington has responded to these developments with great concern, especially in light of the strategic threat posed by the PRC’s presence in the area, reported Asia Times.

Asia Times is a Hong Kong-based English-language news media publishing group.

Chinese intelligence gathering through Cuba dates back to 1999, when Cuba allowed the PRC access to Soviet-era facilities in Bejucal, a city south of the capital, for the purpose of gathering information on the United States.

The Chinese have been running an intelligence base in Cuba for some time, and they only upgraded it in 2019, according to the Biden administration’s reaction to the WSJ report. According to presidential spokesperson John Kirby, the rumours that China was “building” the base were inaccurate.

The discussion, however, did not clarify how much money the PRC contributed to the 2019 upgrade or whether it was covered by the debt relief and investment credits granted to Cuba by the PRC in November.

The potential rotation of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military personnel through the island for training, however, crosses a modest but significant threshold in terms of a long-term Chinese military presence close to the US mainland, according to Asia Times.

Regardless of the specifics, both moves demonstrate a greater willingness on the part of Cuba and the PRC to take risks through overtly US-focused military programmes, raising the possibility that they will also take comparable risks in other contexts.

Because of the huge ramifications, Washington will need to respond appropriately and carefully to both current and potential future events involving both parties.

Since the 1962 missile crisis, the Cuban leadership has consistently been willing to harbour military threats against the United States.

However, the regime’s willingness to allow PRC military operations on the island, even at the risk of being discovered by US counterintelligence, more starkly demonstrates the regime’s current resource desperation amid severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicine – which have sparked a growing exodus of refugees from the island and sparked scattered protests that prompted the government to temporarily shut down the internet.

Such desperation is consistent with actions taken by the Cuban government in response to shortages, such as providing notable tax breaks, long-term land leases, and the opportunity to repatriate profits in exchange for investments meant to address shortages in the nation’s oil supply, rum supply, and food production, as per Asia Times.

Regarding the PRC, its willingness to host anti-US military forces for intelligence gathering and training close to the continental United States is a significant shift from the PRC’s otherwise moderate military activities in the area.

Prior engagements by the PRC military in the area have regularly centred on hospital ship visits, participation in MINUSTAH, the United Nations mission maintaining peace in Haiti, training and professional military exchanges, and institutional visits.

While it is true that the United States and other democratic states conduct international waters and airspace operations under the freedom of navigation principle (FONOPs), the United States cannot simply tolerate an intelligence collection facility 100 miles from its shore operated by its principal geopolitical rival, nor the rotations of PLA military personnel through the island. Such acts of espionage go beyond the simple characterization of “what rivals do” and should be met with a response.

Besides military strikes or other extreme measures that would ultimately be counterproductive for the relationship with the region, the United States most likely can neither persuade nor coerce Cuba and the PRC into abandoning their US-focused military cooperation.

While it is true that the United States and other democratic states operate in international waters and airspace in accordance with the freedom of navigation principle (FONOPs), the United States cannot merely accept the rotation of PLA military personnel through the island or an intelligence gathering facility run by its main geopolitical rival 100 miles from its shore. Such espionage activities require a reaction since they go beyond the simple categorization of “what competitors do.”

The United States is unlikely to be able to convince Cuba and the PRC to end their US-focused military cooperation without resorting to military strikes or other drastic steps that would eventually be detrimental to relations with the region.

This should not, however, stop the United States from using all other tools at its disposal to keep up pressure on and isolate China and the Cuban government. This helps restrict the spread of other capabilities, including anti-US intelligence gathering, abroad.

Additionally, it sends a clear message to other countries that explicitly cooperating with adversaries from outside the hemisphere will result in harsh penalties and a threat to US security, Asia Times reported.


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