Is China Challenging The US In Its Own Back Yard?

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Is the Monroe Doctrine about to meet Xi Jinping Thought?

Cuba, the Caribbean Sea island and Cold War remnant isolated from its northern neighbor for most of the past 60 years, has agreed to let China construct an electronic spy base on its territory, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China is willing to pay Cuba“several billion dollars” to allow construction of the eavesdropping station, the Journal said Monday.

Such an accord would indicate China's willingness to incur American wrath by placing a military intelligence facility 90 miles off US shores. It would stand as an expression of Beijing's anger over moves by the US to“contain” China by building new or supplementing old military alliances in the Western Pacific Ocean.

It would indicate, in short, that Chinese leader Xi Jinping means to show that China can flex military muscle in the Caribbean, even if only in the form of electronic espionage equipment.

The US administration denied the substance of the report. If it were acknowledged to be true, President Joe Biden would be under great pressure to respond.

The Monroe Doctrine is an American foreign policy dogma dating from the early 19th
Century. It was meant to prohibit European colonial powers from threatening the US through other hemispheric countries.

It last gained prominence in 1962, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev tried to supply Communist Cuba with nuclear weapons. Khrushchev declared the doctrine dead as he transported nuclear missiles via ship toward Havana.

US President John F. Kennedy invoked the doctrine and set up a maritime blockade of Cuba. The Soviet ships retreated.

Comrades: Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro (left) and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev display their solidarity during a post–Cuban Missile Crisis get-together in Moscow. Photo: US Naval Institute

Biden, as a young politician, used to ape JFK's speaking style. Now he may be faced with trying to emulate the missile crisis result.

Washington became aware of the Cuba-China espionage plan a few weeks ago, the Journal report said. Installation of a spy station would allow Beijing to gather electronic communications from military bases in southeastern American states and to monitor ship traffic.

China is not shy about its own construction of alliances. It has built a strategic partnership with Russia and is unwilling to criticize Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Beijing also made a small effort to extend its naval reach into the Pacific far beyond its shores last year. It signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, north of Australia. The accord focuses on building the islands' defenses, along with offering humanitarian aid.

It also includes a clause that lets China make naval“visits to carry out logistical replacement,” and send Chinese forces to“protect the safety of Chinese personnel” employed there.

Earlier this year, what the US government identified as a Chinese“spy balloon” transited across US territory, and over several military bases and facilities. US President Joe Biden ordered it shot down as it exited over the Atlantic Ocean.

US sailors fish the collapsed Chinese spy balloon out of the Atlantic off South Carolina. Photo: US Navy

Biden, recently trying to ease tensions with China, had sent one of his top officials, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, to Vienna for talks with China's top diplomat Wang Yi.

After the Sullivan-Wang meeting, Biden signaled his desire to warm relations with China and blamed recent tensions on“the silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars' worth of spying equipment.” He added that relations would“begin to thaw very shortly.”

China provided no comparable happy talk. Rather, Wang said he had focused on the issue of Taiwan, whose future as part of China is a“solemn position” and none of Washington's business.

A quick arrival at warm relations seems unlikely, even though the US National Defense Strategy paper issued last year blandly listed China as a“competitor” and Biden has gone beyond that only far enough to label it a“stiff competitor.” Washington's current view of China seems better described by deeds rather than bland diplo-speak.

This year, Washington deepened its military alliance with South Korea by reaching an agreement to deploy nuclear-armed submarines there and by inviting Korean participation in regional nuclear planning.

In return, Seoul agreed not to build its own atomic weapons. (The US fears some sort of tit-for-tat nuclear exchange between the South and Communist-ruled North Korea.)

Not long after the Korean accord, Japan, alarmed by Chinese naval nearby activity, said it would increase defense spending up to two percent of its gross domestic product by 2027. The increase meets a longstanding pledge made by Japan and its NATO partners in 2014; Japan's promise requires a 60% increase above its current defense outlay.

Meanwhile, the Philippines said it was permitting US forces access to four military camps, widening American presence in the Southeast Asian island country.

Last year, the US, United Kingdom and Australia agreed to construct a fleet of at least eight nuclear submarines in Australia. Although the sophisticated subs will take several years to produce, it was yet another sign of a quick and broad naval expansion in the Pacific under US leadership.

If the Australian accord was not signal enough of the creation of a watery Great Wall against China, Papua New Guinea and the US signed a preliminary security cooperation pact. It is designed to strengthen Papua New Guinea's defense force – a“natural progression” in US-Papua contacts,
the State Department wrote.

Rounding out the frenetic revamping of Pacific military resources, the United States approved the sale of $619 million in new weapons to Taiwan, including missiles for its F-16 military jet fleet.

While the speed of alliance-building is unusual, the Biden Administration moves represent realization of a US wish that is more than a decade old to make a military“pivot to Asia” to confront China.

President Barak Obama made a stab at pivoting during his two terms in office that ended in 2017. Obama increased the US naval presence in the western Pacific by 60%, but further efforts were hampered by budget constraints and the American involvement in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Obama's successor, Donald Trump, focused less on a military pivot than on changing trade imbalances, curbing intellectual property theft by China and Chinese influence on US universities.

Biden's policies have received steady criticisms from Beijing. The US alliance with
Japan, for instance,“Will pose a threat not only to China, but also to North Korea and Russia in the region. China is right to take strategic action to respond,” Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, told China's Global Times newspaper.

China expressed both perplexity and opposition to US military interest in Papua New Guinea.“China believes the rest of the world needs to give more attention and support for development and prosperity in Pacific island countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.“We oppose bringing geopolitical contest into the region of Pacific island countries.”

Generally, Chinese critiques of US and allied moves focus on opposing efforts to“contain” China and what Beijing decries as persistent promotion of a“Cold War mentality” and“bloc building.“

Use of economic muscle has been China's main tool of influence. The fruits of its Belt and Road initiative span the globe. Along those lines, Beijing has made inroads into the American backyard of Latin America, supposedly off-limits to potential enemies.

Take Brazil, the continent's biggest country. Over the last twenty years, China went“from being practically irrelevant to Brazil's economy to becoming the country's main economic partner, both in trade and, more recently, in direct investments and finance,” wrote the United States Institute of Peace in a recent report.

The benefits for Brazil include big commodity exports, especially of meat and soy. Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva shares some geopolitical positions with Xi that are dear to the Chinese leader. During his recent state visit to Beijing, Lula called for replacing the US dollar as the word's chief trading currency with some other basket of currencies. China wants the same thing.

Lula also joined Xi's expression of neutrality over the war on Ukraine, though he stated that,“Putin shouldn't have invaded.”

And Cuba? Commerce with China appears locked in a classic imbalance of trade between a poor country selling low-priced commodities in order to import industrial products. Cuba exports sugar, tobacco and nickel to China; China sells machinery, electronic goods and medicines to Cuba.

US officials' initial reaction to the Journal's report said it contained some inaccuracies, but the officials declined to specify what those might be or to comment on the overall thrust of the article.

Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos F. Cossío said in a press conference that the Journal had reported“fallacies promoted with the deceitful intention of justifying the unprecedented tightening of the blockade, destabilization, and aggression against Cuba and of deceiving public opinion in the United States and the world.”

This article first appeared in Daniel Williams's newsletter Next War Notes. It is republished with permission.

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