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Cuba to host a Chinese spy base focusing on U.S., 'Wall Street Journal' reports


We're going to go back to a subject we've been focusing on a lot this week - the increasingly contentious relationship between the U.S. and China. When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met earlier this week, one of the issues on the table was resuming contact between the two militaries after it was cut off in August last year. Blinken said he also addressed China's plans to build a military training facility in Cuba capable of spying on the U.S.


ANTONY BLINKEN: I made very clear that we would have deep concerns about PRC intelligence or military activities in Cuba.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Warren Strobel. He is the national security reporter for The Wall Street Journal who first reported on the Chinese base plan for Cuba. Good morning, Warren.

WARREN STROBEL: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the White House initially called your reporting inaccurate, but then confirmed the existence of Chinese intelligence facilities in Cuba, at least since 2019. What more can you tell us about this new facility that China plans to build?

STROBEL: I think the main concern here, Michel, is that the facility could be - U.S. intelligence doesn't quite know what the plan is, but their concern is that it could be used as a building block to expand China's military and intelligence presence on Cuba. And I think the important point here is this is part of a project by China's People's Liberation Army called Project 141, where it is going around the world and trying to establish military bases and logistical support facilities in places like Gabon, the United Arab Emirates, Cambodia. So at least from perspective of U.S. officials, it seems like China is sort of extending this into the Western Hemisphere.

MARTIN: And how does this complicate Washington's plans to try to stabilize the relationship when the U.S. - the administration knows and now the public knows that China is trying to, or at least we think they are trying to, increase spying miles off the coast?

STROBEL: Yeah, I think it is just one more major irritant in a relationship that has already been troubled by, obviously, the Chinese spy balloon overflew the U.S. earlier this year, by - there have been close encounters between our ships and planes, Chinese ships and planes. And I have to say, when we first reported this story about two weeks ago, the White House reaction was rather - they were not happy, to say the least, because it came just as Secretary Blinken was prepared to go to China. And President Biden had said he was hoping for a thaw in relations. And this was not the kind of news that they wanted out there.

MARTIN: As briefly as you can, though, do you think that - well, what can you tell us about or what does your reporting indicate of what might have been accomplished on the secretary's recent trip to that end?

STROBEL: Well, Secretary Blinken did say that he raised this issue, as well as other irritants. And, as he puts it, he feels like the relationship is stabilized a little bit. It had been in a downward spiral. And I think there are some agreements for further meetings, high-level meetings between the U.S. and China, which is good. The one thing that the U.S. really sought was a reopening of military-to-military communication lines in order to avoid a misunderstanding that could lead to, you know, inadvertent conflict on the seas or in the skies. And the Chinese did not agree to that. So that was at least one point where Mr. Blinken did not have success yet.

MARTIN: And why do you think that is? I mean, why do you think China is so reluctant to do that? It would seem that they would have as much at stake as the U.S. does.

STROBEL: Yeah, that's a good point. There's a couple of things. One, several years ago, the U.S. Treasury - I believe it was the U.S. Treasury - put sanctions on the individual who, at the time - he's now the defense minister of China; he wasn't at the time. And China says, you know, we're basically not going to talk to you. We're not going to meet with Defense Secretary Austin until you take the sanctions off. That's one thing. And secondly, I think traditionally, the Chinese have been a little reluctant to engage in deep military-to-military contacts because they feel like they don't want to give too much information away.

MARTIN: OK. That's Warren Strobel. He's the national security reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.

STROBEL: Thank you for having me on, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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