The Pentagon says reports that China and Cuba have reached a secret pact allowing Beijing to build an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island that is 160 kilometers from the United States are "not accurate."
"I can tell you, based on the information that we have, that that is not accurate - that we are not aware of China and Cuba developing any type of spy station," Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
According to the reports, which first appeared in The Wall Street Journal citing unnamed intelligence officials, China had agreed to pay financially hard-pressed Cuba several billion dollars for the spy facility, which would allow China to collect electronic communications from throughout the southeastern United States, where numerous military bases are located.
Ryder added that the Pentagon was not aware of China setting up any type of military base in Cuba or elsewhere in the region.
However, he cautioned that the relationship between Cuba and China is something that the Pentagon monitors, along with any type of "coercive activity or belligerent activity" by China in the Western Hemisphere.
A senior White House official also described the media reports as "not accurate."
'We are very aware'
A Defense Department official, who declined to comment directly on the reports, told VOA the U.S. was still "able to meet all our security commitments at home and across the region."
"On a broader level, we are very aware of [China's] attempts to invest in infrastructure around the world that may have military purposes, including in the Western Hemisphere," the official said.
China’s foreign ministry Friday accused the United States of “spreading rumors and slander,” Reuters reported.
A spokesperson at the Cuban Embassy in Washington told VOA that the Journal's report was "false."
Earlier Thursday, Cuba's deputy foreign minister, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said the report was "totally false and unfounded."
"Slanders like this have frequently been fabricated by United States officials," he added.
Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired intelligence officer, told VOA Mandarin that Cuba "certainly falls within the footprint to be able to collect the U.S. military communications from some geostationary satellites."
"This is an intelligence collection program. It's not unexpected. I would think that this has been coming for quite some period of time," he added. "It's another threat to national security that we have to contend with."
Few options seen
James Andrew Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, told VOA Mandarin that the U.S. has few options in response.
"Because Cuba is so close to the United States, it's like being part of the American phone network," he said. "If they decide they want to have a Chinese listening station, there's not a lot we can do."
The White House and many lawmakers in Congress consider China to be the chief U.S. economic and military rival. The U.S. is the world's biggest economy, and China is the second largest.
Earlier this year, the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, but not before it traversed the breadth of the United States and flew over numerous military bases. Last weekend, a Chinese warship abruptly sailed across the bow of a U.S. destroyer as it passed through international waters in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. said the incident forced the American ship to slow down to avoid a collision.
Republican opponents of Biden were quick to attack the administration about the reported Chinese venture into the Western Hemisphere, although it was unclear what, if anything, the U.S. could do to stop it.
"Joe Biden needs to wake up to the real Chinese threats on our doorstep," Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and a current Republican presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the closest U.S. state to Cuba, said on Twitter, "The threat to America from Cuba isn't just real, it is far worse than this."
VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.