Chinese firms lead efforts to build Cuba’s Internet infrastructure

WASHINGTON—As the Obama administration works to expand economic relations with Cuba, it is competing for influence with a familiar rival: China.

Since the White House embarked on restoring relations with Cuba—an effort culminating in President Barack Obama’s historic visit next week—the U.S. has run up against China’s efforts in recent years to build an economic relationship with the country.

China’s trade with Cuba grew by 57% in the first three quarters of 2015 to $1.6 billion, rebounding from an usually weak period the year before, according to Beijing. Direct flights from Beijing to Havana started in December. And China is leading efforts to build Cuba’s Internet infrastructure.

“You have Chinese influence really across the board,” said Richard Feinberg, a former U.S. diplomat who studies the Cuban economy at the University of California, San Diego, and the Brookings Institution in Washington. “From the Cuban point of view, they’re still paranoid about America.”