Thursday, May 23News That Matters

Chinese Spying in Africa through Infrastructure Projects

By Keefa Nuwahereza

A new report shows how Beijing is using infrastructure to expand its surveillance network on the continent, making U.S. officials vulnerable.

China’s Expands Spy Ambitions in Africa

In 2018, the African Union accused China of infiltrating the computer network in its glitzy new headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to steal sensitive data—a task made easier by the fact that China itself built the headquarters. But it likely didn’t stop there. In recent years, China has quietly embarked on government building projects across Africa that add up to a counterintelligence nightmare for the United States and its partners on the continent, according to new research from the Heritage Foundation.

China has constructed or renovated nearly 200 government buildings, gifted batches of computers to African governments, and built “secure” telecommunications networks that give Beijing the opportunity for unprecedented surveillance on the continent. The report analyzes how China’s construction projects are a trojan horse for spying on African governments, based on China’s long-standing pattern of using its foreign infrastructure projects for political advantage and industrial espionage.

Nightmare for U.S. officials. The report offers stark assessments on the vulnerabilities that U.S. officials in Africa face amid growing concern in Washington over China’s clout on the continent. “Beijing likely uses surveillance to, among other things, advantage its companies competing for contracts, spy on U.S. officials, and influence African officials,” the report says. It concludes that all American officials should operate with the “baseline assumption” that all their communications with African governments are monitored by the Chinese.

Among the report’s other findings:

186 / The number of African government buildings Chinese companies have constructed or renovated—including 24 buildings for presidents or prime ministers, 26 parliamentary buildings, 19 ministry of foreign affairs buildings, and 32 military or police buildings

40 / The number of African countries, out of 54 total, that have government buildings constructed by China

14 / The number of sensitive intra-governmental telecommunications networks China has built across Africa

35 / The number of African governments to which China has gifted batches of computers

70 / The percentage of 4G networks in Africa developed by Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei

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