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July 30, 2023

PacNet #49 – China’s military engagements with Cuba: Implications of a strategic advance in Latin America

By Dr. R. Evan Ellis, PhD US Army War College

R. Evan Ellis 

In June 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that the People’s Republic of China has heavily 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. These developments have been met with great concern in Washington, particularly due to the strategic threat that the PRC’s presence in the region poses. 

China’s history of US intelligence collection through Cuba can be traced back to 1999 when Cuba granted the PRC access to facilities at Bejucal, a city just south of the capital, previously operated by the Soviet Union, to collect intelligence on the United States. More recently, the Biden administration’s response to the WSJ’s report confirmed that the Chinese had indeed been operating an intelligence facility in Cuba for some time, and had only upgraded it in 2019. This runs counter to presidential spokesman John Kirby’s characterization of the reports of China’s “building” of the base, and is marked as “not entirely accurate.” However, the dialogue left unclear exactly how much money the PRC has invested towards the 2019 upgrade and whether or not it was included as part of the debt restructure and investment credits awarded by the PRC to Cuba this past November. By contrast, the possible rotation of Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) military personnel through the island for training crosses a small, if important threshold with respect to an enduring Chinese military presence close to the US mainland. 

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Image from PacNet article with title overlay.