According to a report by Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, Chinese construction companies that build key offices and residences for African officials should be investigated for potential spying. As usual, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpieces have come out, pointing fingers at Americans and the think tank, blaming them for “driving a wedge between friendly partners.”
Prepared by Joshua Meservey, Senior Policy Analyst, Africa and the Middle East, the report has several key takeaways.
- With the extensive relationships based on loans, construction, and trade, Beijing has undeniably built an excellent surveillance network in Africa, compared to other superpowers.
- At least 186 buildings that come under the “sensitive” category have been constructed and renovated by Chinese companies.
- Like handing keys to the house to the burglar, Chinese telecom companies have set up at least 14 “secure” networks to relay information within African governments.
- Thirty-five African governments use “gifted” Chinese equipment for computing and in their networks.
- There are 54 countries altogether in Africa. Out of these, at least 40 have a Chinese-built government building, with the most numbers in Namibia (25 buildings), Angola (15), Equatorial Guinea (11), Ghana (11), and Uganda (11).
The buildings include presidential or prime minister residences and offices, parliaments, foreign affairs offices, and even military and police installations. These are potential opportunities for spying on governments and discovering their inner workings. The buildings don’t necessarily turn much of a profit by themselves. So why did the Chinese government spend so much money to construct them?
Information gleaned from surveillance can include the personal preferences of individual leaders in a country, along with their financial situations, policy inclinations, and other critical bits of personal data.
Moreover, the construction companies in charge of the projects are mostly state-owned enterprises, meaning the Chinese government has a direct say in how they conduct business. They need to report to the Chinese Communist Party.
A previous spying precedent
According to Meservey, the author, a need for the report came about from the 2018 scandal that saw China installing listening devices in the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. French newspaper Le Monde brought this accusation of spying to light, based on investigations that revealed servers based in the African Union headquarters were sending data to Shanghai from midnight to 2 a.m. on a regular basis.
Of course, the servers were set up by Chinese engineers who left “backdoors” open for information gathering.
Why the world needs to care
The Chinese Communist Party has enormous clout in Africa. But why Africa? Africa has many countries and is well represented in the United Nations. Influencing the African leaders to submit to the will of Beijing can affect democratic decisions based on voting in the United Nations.
In 1971, African nations provided the bulk of votes that kicked out Taiwan and made Beijing the official representative of China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, it was African nations that helped Beijing weather the criticism from the West. Today, the UN does not care much for the Uyghur plight or Falun Gong organ harvesting. Why?
Beijing’s spying capabilities are second to none. If sensitive information is gathered about a critical African leader, he or she can be blackmailed and brought under CCP control. Besides this, there are significant risks posed to developed countries coming into Africa for trade and international cooperation.
Business secrets, strategies, bids, and processes are all left to the mercy of spy equipment found in residences, offices, and telecom networks. This poses incredible barriers to cooperation with Western companies and governments that value integrity in secure communications.
For a more detailed read of the Heritage Foundation report, click here.