US intelligence has determined that Chinese spying from Cuba has been an "ongoing" matter for years. Initially, the White House refuted the accuracy of reports suggesting this had been going on.
China has been spying from Cuba for some time and upgraded its intelligence collection facilities there in 2019, the White House said on Saturday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to news agencies, a US official said Chinese surveillance operations from Cuba are part of a global effort by China to ramp up its intelligence-gathering capabilities.
"This is an ongoing issue, and not a new development," the official said. "The [People's Republic of China] conducted an upgrade of its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019. This is well-documented in the intelligence record."
The Biden administration made the revelation in the wake of a report about a new spying effort underway in Cuba.
Washington concerned by Chinese surveillance
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing had reached a deal with Cuba to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island, roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the US state of Florida. At the time of the publication, both the United States and Cuba cast doubt on the report's legitimacy.
"I've seen that press report, it's not accurate," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in an MSNBC interview on Thursday. "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."
Rocky US relations with China
The Biden administration has increased efforts to fend off possible Chinese spying missions, and Washington believes it has made some progress through diplomacy and other unspecified action, according to the anonymous official.
Asked for comment, an official at the Chinese Embassy in the US capital pointed to Friday's statement by a Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesperson who accused Washington of "spreading rumors and slander" with talk of a Cuba spy station and of being "the most powerful hacker empire in the world."
Of late, the Biden administration has been actively pursuing increased engagement with China, particularly as tensions have escalated between the world's two largest economies over various issues, including Taiwan — which China claims as its own — and military activities in the South China Sea.
US-China relations also became strained after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had crossed the United States.