The Chinese have been prolific over the past decade in constructing hundreds of government buildings across the continent. Parliaments, ministries, presidential palaces, and most notably, even the headquarters of the African Union. Many of these buildings serve an important purpose by assisting local governments with the development of modern infrastructure that they either can’t or otherwise don’t finance on their own.
But there’s a potential downside when any foreign country with extensive political, economic and military interests in Africa builds these kinds of facilities. With respect to China, that risk became more evident in 2018 when the French newspaper Le Monde reported that the Chinese government, using Huawei technology, had allegedly installed listening devices in the African Union headquarters that Beijing financed and built as well as engaged in digital surveillance.
It’s worth mentioning that although the Financial Times newspaper followed up on the Le Monde and provided additional confirmation of the spying allegations, the Le Monde report relied entirely on anonymous sources.
African leaders, including AU officials, largely brushed off the spying allegations and, at least publicly, did not seem too bothered by the fuss.
Not surprisingly, Chinese officials furiously denied the AU spying allegations.
The issue is now, once again, on the agenda following a new report published by The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst for Africa and the Middle East, Joshua Meservey, that renews concerns about China’s role in constructing African government buildings and the potential for widespread Chinese espionage.
Joshua joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his findings and explain even though he doesn’t present any firm evidence that the Chinese are using these buildings to spy on African governments, that actually wasn’t the point of the report. Instead, he hopes to alert senior U.S. policymakers that this issue poses a potential threat to both local governments and U.S. interests on the continent.
- The Heritage Foundation: Government Buildings in Africa Are a Likely Vector for Chinese Spying by Joshua Meservey
- Le Monde: In Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union spied on by Beijing (in French) by Joan Tilouine and Ghalia Kadiri
- CNN.com: China denies bugging African Union headquarters it built in Ethiopia by Bukola Adebayo and Tim Schwarz
Joshua Meservey is the Senior Policy Analyst for Africa and the Middle East at the Heritage Foundation.
He specializes in African geopolitics, counterterrorism, and refugee policy. From 2006 to 2009, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia and extended his service to work for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, he joined Church World Service (CWS) based out of Nairobi, Kenya, and traveled extensively in East and Southern Africa interviewing refugees. He ended his time at CWS as Field Team Manager responsible for a multinational team of nearly 100 staff. In 2012, he worked at the US Army Special Operations Command and helped write an Army concept paper, and in 2014 joined the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center before joining The Heritage Foundation.