Beijing dismisses report it put bugs in walls and desks and downloaded data from its servers every night for five years
China and the African Union dismissed on Monday a report that Beijing had bugged the regional bloc’s headquarters, which it built and paid for in the Ethiopian capital.
French newspaper Le Monde quoted anonymous African Union (AU) sources saying that data from computers in the Chinese-built building had been transferred nightly to Chinese servers for five years.
After the hack was discovered a year ago, the building’s IT system including servers was changed, according to Le Monde. During a sweep for bugs after the discovery, microphones were also found hidden in desks and the walls, the newspaper reported.
The $200m headquarters was fully funded and built by China and opened to great fanfare in 2012. It was seen as a symbol of Beijing’s thrust for influence in Africa, and access to the continent’s natural resources.
As in the Ethiopian capital, China’s investments in road and rail infrastructure are highly visible across the continent. At a 2015 summit in South Africa, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged $60bn in aid and investment to the continent, saying it would continue to build roads, railways and ports.
Chinese and African officials who were in Addis Ababa for the bloc’s annual summit denied Le Monde’s report.
China’s ambassador to the AU, Kuang Weilin, called the article “ridiculous and preposterous” and said its publication was intended to put pressure on relations between Beijing and the continent. “China-Africa relations have brought about benefits and a lot of opportunities. Africans are happy with it. Others are not.“
Asked who he referred to, he said: “People in the west. They are not used to it and they are simply not comfortable with this.“
Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president who assumed the AU chairmanship this year, said he did not know anything about it. “But, in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here that we would not like people to know,” he said after a meeting of African heads of state.
“I don’t think spying is the speciality of the Chinese. We have spies all over the place in this world,” Kagame said. “But I will not have been worried about being spied on in this building.”
His only concern, he said, was that the AU, instead of China, should have built the headquarters. “I would only have wished that in Africa we had got our act together earlier on. We should have been able to build our own building.”