Thursday, 6 July 2023

POWER PLAY: Cuba spy station brings US-China rivalry closer to American shores

 China's plans to build a listening post in Cuba hint at Beijing's global power ambitions. The move also brings the country's brewing rivalry with the U.S. closer to American soil.

The spy station will be located about 100 miles off Florida and could potentially allow the Chinese military to monitor communications throughout most of the southern United States. This adds to the already present concern of putting China in a region of extreme economic and geopolitical importance to the U.S., giving the communist nation an advantage as it competes with Washington for influence. The listening station also turns the tables on a major source of conflict for Beijing: the U.S. spying off Chinese shores.

Michael Mazarr, an international security specialist at the Rand Corp, warned that the "symbolism is much bigger."

He warned that if the station is built, the U.S. can no longer be complacent in thinking of the "China challenge" as being limited to the Indo-Pacific, with the U.S. being strong enough to invade on the other's region in security terms because "those days are over."

The Cuba spy facility will give Beijing an advantage in the U.S.-China rivalry, but it's unlikely that it's being proposed as a bargaining chip.

America isn't likely to pull back military deployments from China's periphery, especially since Washington has some concerns about Beijing's more assertive posture and American security commitments to allies Australia and Japan.

The Cuba post may be a sign that China now considers its struggle with the U.S. as a global one and that it must operate across the world to keep Washington out and protect Chinese interests.

China has already set up facilities that could work with its navy in Asia and the Pacific and is on a global search for basing sites.

China to use Cuba as a staging point for expanding influence in the region

China has looked to Cuba, which is also controlled by a communist party-led government, as a potential entry point to further expand its influence in Central and South America and gain the upper hand over the U.S. in a region Washington has long considered an American preserve.

Within the past 20 years, China has gained strength as an economic player in Latin America by increasing trade and investment in agriculture, energy, mining and other sectors. China has already become the top trading partner for many countries in the region, like Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

The engagement has given Chinese companies access to raw materials like copper, oil, soybeans and other resources that Beijing considers crucial to grow the Chinese economy.  

R. Evan Ellis, a professor at the United States Army War College who tracks Beijing’s relations in the region, explained that China's engagement in Latin America is about "seizing what it needs for its own benefit."

In the longer term, China's relations with Latin America are about the country preparing for a world where the U.S. or other countries may try to interfere with its attempts to do so.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has even said in the past that the U.S. is planning to contain China "as it rises to become a global peer." Other Chinese officials have warned that the U.S. may be planning to bring the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Asia as another tactic to keep China in check.

US trying to maintain defense cooperation with allies in Asia

Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner said the U.S. has made gains in expanding access to military facilities and working with countries like Australia, India, Japan and the Philippines. Ratner added that America's bonds with these countries are "in overdrive."

"There's just a very strong demand signal right now for the U.S. to be playing its traditional stabilizing role," said Ratner.

There is no denying that China's assertiveness and coercion highlight the importance of the U.S. and other countries working together to prepare for the worst.

With Beijing planning the spy station in Cuba, the U.S. could try to make sure that China's military presence doesn't get stronger.

And with economic sanctions and strained ties, the U.S. may resort to collaborating with its European and Latin American allies to exert pressure on Havana, particularly if Washington isn't prepared to offer inducements.

Visit to learn more about China's rivalry 

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