China has lashed out at the US for “spreading rumours and slander” and described Washington as the “most powerful hacker empire” in a denial of reports that it had inked a secret deal with Cuba to set up a spy station.
Citing US officials with classified intelligence, American media claimed China had reached a deal with cash-strapped Cuba to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility that would allow Beijing to gather electronic communications on US military bases and monitor ship traffic.
China would pay Cuba “several billion dollars” to allow the eavesdropping station, in an agreement reached in principle, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing officials.
Another report by CNN said the US learnt about the deal in the last several weeks, citing two US officials.
The US and Cuba have both denied the reports.
Chinese foreign minister spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Friday avoided directly answering questions on the reports and addressing the alleged plans for opening a spy base in Cuba, saying Beijing was “not aware” of the situation.
“As we all know, spreading rumours and slander is a common tactic of the United States,” he said.
“The United States is also the most powerful hacker empire in the world, and also veritably a major monitoring nation.”
Mr Wang’s comments came despite the White House denying the report.
John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters on Thursday that the report was “not accurate”, but did not say what he thought was inaccurate.
“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,” Mr Kirby told MSNBC. “We’re watching this very, very closely.”
The proximity of the alleged facility – roughly 100 miles (160km) from Florida – raised concerns as the report claimed it would allow Chinese intelligence to “scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern US”.
Cuban deputy foreign minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio also denied the reports in a press conference in Havana.
He said the reports are “totally untrue” and “slanders”, adding that Cuba rejects all foreign military presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Slander like this has been fabricated frequently by US officials,” he said, adding that the rumours were being used to legitimise US sanctions on Cuba.
The revelations come as another road block in US-China ties. Beijing has rebuffed Washington’s attempts to resume high-level dialogue at crucial military and diplomatic events following several missteps in their bilateral relationship.
Mr Blinken is reportedly expected to travel to Beijing in the coming weeks to meet senior Communist Party officials, including president Xi Jinping.
An earlier planned visit by the senior diplomat was cancelled after the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon earlier this year. The incident had further soured an already strained relationship with China.
A visit by former House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last year sparked a diplomatic row between the two before the “spy” balloon incident.
China also declined a meeting with US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin last week at the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore.
Washington had issued an invite for talks between Mr Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu for the summit but the two only ended up shaking hands without holding any bilateral talks.