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“We must be clear that it would be unacceptable for China to establish an intelligence facility within 100 miles of Florida and the United States, in an area also populated with key military installations and extensive maritime traffic,” Warner and Rubio said.
The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, said in a tweet he was “deeply troubled” by the reports and added, “If true, this would be yet another act of Chinese aggression.”
Setting up a listening post in Cub fits into China’s broader global strategy to secure ports and hubs at key naval chokepoints around the world, providing it with a platform “to conduct real-time intelligence collection against the U.S. military and U.S. facilities in the region,” said Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.
Chinese denials regarding the base “should not be taken at face value,” according to Singleton. China initially described an outpost it constructed in Djibouti as a minor logistics site, but it is now a sprawling base that can house thousands of Chinese marines that includes vast hardened underground facilities, he said.
As the administration has made final preparations for Blinken’s trip in recent weeks, the Chinese and U.S. militaries have had two close calls in the western Pacific. The Pentagon says a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. military surveillance plane over the South China Sea on May 30. Days later, a Chinese naval ship came within 150 yards of an American destroyer in the Taiwan Strait, cutting across its bow. China rejected the Pentagon’s description and blamed the U.S. for both incidents.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the incidents, Blinken said the near collisions only underscored the importance of the U.S. and China maintaining open lines of communication.
“The most dangerous thing is not to communicate and as a result, to have a misunderstanding and miscommunication,” Blinken said. “As we’ve said repeatedly, while we have a real competition with China, we also make sure that doesn’t veer into conflict.”
U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, worried about growing distrust between the two superpowers, see Blinken’s planned visit as crucial to preventing a trade war and avoiding an unintended crisis.
“All of our allies are uneasy about the fact that the U.S.-China relationship continues to deteriorate,” said Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the German Marshall Fund think tank’s Indo-Pacific program. “They all want to see more stable relations between the United States and China.”
In March, South Korean Rep. Lee Jae-jung, who sits on the foreign affairs committee of the country’s National Assembly, said that the “current state of Chinese-U.S. relations is a powder keg that I fear could explode anytime.”
But critics and some China hawks have questioned the administration’s approach, accusing the White House of pulling its punches and being too eager to maintain the prospect of possible high-level meetings with Chinese counterparts.
“Xi will permit only limited bilateral dialogue in niche areas of vital significance to Beijing while rejecting meaningful engagement on most anything of import to Washington,” Singleton said.
After angry exchanges between Washington and Beijing during and after the Chinese balloon flight in February, the Biden administration has stopped speaking about the airship publicly, unless asked. The administration has also not released the results of an FBI-led examination of the debris from the balloon, which was shot down on Feb. 4.
Chinese officials want to move on from the incident and privately express concern about the issue coming up again if the results of the FBI investigation are released. At the G7 summit in Japan in May, President Joe Biden dismissed the airship as a “silly balloon.”
Carol E. Lee contributed.