China and the African Union dismissed on Monday a report in French newspaper Le Monde that Beijing had bugged the regional bloc’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
An article published Friday in Le Monde, quoting anonymous AU sources, reported that data from computers in the Chinese-built building had been transferred nightly to Chinese servers for five years.
After the massive 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 hidden in desks and the walls were also detected and removed, the newspaper reported.
The $200 million 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 $60 billion in aid and investment to the continent, saying it would continue to build roads, railways and ports.
Chinese and African officials gathered in Addis Ababa for the bloc’s annual summit both 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 said: “People in the West. They are not used to it and they are simply not comfortable with this.”
Asked about the report, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who assumed the African Union 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 told reporters 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 should have built its own headquarters, instead of China. “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.”
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; writing by Maggie Fick; editing by Mark Heinrich (Reuters)