U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that China upgraded its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019.

Blinken, speaking at a press conference, said that upon the formation of President Joe Biden's administration in January 2021, some officials were briefed on a number of "sensitive efforts" by China to expand its overseas logistics to enable it to "project and sustain military power at the greater distance."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the press at the State Department in Washington on June 12, 2023. (Pool photo)(AP/Kyodo)

Blinken revealed that China was considering various sites around the world for such an expansion, including intelligence-gathering facilities in Cuba.

His remarks came after The Wall Street Journal reported last week that China had secretly struck a deal with Cuba to build an electronic eavesdropping station on the island, citing U.S. officials.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin sharply reacted to Blinken's remarks, saying at a press conference on Tuesday that Beijing hopes the United States will "stop spreading rumors and smearing" the Asian country.

Wang also blamed Washington for its own track record of spying, urging the United States to "stop indiscriminately eavesdropping and stealing secrets from other countries."

The Wall Street Journal report was initially described as inaccurate by the White House, but a Biden administration official explained Saturday that China has been spying from Cuba for some time, rather than it being a recent development.

Blinken said the United States has had "high-level" engagements with countries that are considering hosting Chinese facilities and that Washington's diplomatic efforts have "slowed down" attempts by Beijing to increase its presence overseas.

"We remain confident that we are able to meet all of our security commitments both at home and in the region," he said following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani in Washington.

On Monday, China again flatly rejected the allegations that it is conducting espionage operations in Cuba. "What is true can never be false, and what is false can never be true," Wang said at a press briefing.

The report and Blinken's remarks about China come at a delicate time as he is planning to visit Beijing as early as this weekend for talks with senior officials while bilateral relations remain soured.

The top U.S. diplomat had initially planned to visit Beijing in early February in a bid to improve ties following an in-person meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November in Indonesia.

But the trip was abruptly put off after Washington detected what it called a Chinese spy balloon traveling over sensitive areas of the continental United States, fueling tensions between the countries.

If the trip goes ahead, it will be the first visit to China by a ministerial-level official from Washington since the start of Biden's administration.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing on Monday that the United States has conveyed its concern about China to Cuba. and he does not expect Blinken's planned trip to Beijing to be affected by media reports about the allegations.

"As we communicated over the weekend, this is not a new development that...China has been trying to achieve some intelligence gathering capabilities in Cuba and frankly elsewhere in the hemisphere," Kirby said. "We're confident that we can continue to protect our nation's secrets in this hemisphere and beyond."

Kirby added that "nothing's changed about the fact that we understand the bilateral relationship with China is tense right now. And nothing's changed about the fact that the president wants to keep the lines of communication open" with Beijing.