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, U.S. news outlets reported Thursday.
A senior White House official described the reports as "not accurate" without specifying what in the reports they took issue with.
According to the reports, which first appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the spy facility would allow China to collect electronic communications from throughout the southeastern U.S., where numerous military bases are located, and monitor U.S. ship traffic.
Asked about the report, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington told Reuters: 'We are not aware of the case and as a result we can't give a comment right now.'
U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the project were quoted anonymously as saying that China has agreed to pay financially hard-pressed Cuba several billion dollars for the right to construct the facility, although it is not known when the project might be operational.
The prospective facility has alarmed the administration of President Joe Biden because of its proximity to the United States, the reports said. The White House and many lawmakers in Congress consider China to be the U.S.'s chief economic and military rival. The U.S. is the world's biggest economy and China second.
Earlier this year, the U.S. shot down a 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.
A Defense Department official said the U.S. would not comment directly on the reports of a planned Chinese facility in Cuba.
"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. "We will continue to monitor it closely and remain confident that we are able to meet all our security commitments at home and across the region."
U.S. officials believe the Chinese facility in Cuba would allow Beijing to conduct signals intelligence, which could include monitoring a range of communications, including emails, phone calls and satellite transmissions, the news accounts said.
Republican opponents of Biden were quick to attack the administration about the 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 United Nations 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."