China is running a massive surveillance network in Africa, reveals a new report published by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The intelligence gathering operation was most likely run through State-owned Chinese companies involved in building critical government infrastructure. These firms have built or renovated around 186 top government buildings and 14 sensitive governmental telecommunication networks across the African continent, which include a number of presidential palaces, parliaments, and military installations.

Communist China is likely using this intelligence leverage to gain influence over African governments and recruit assets, the 23-page report warned. According to the report’s findings, Beijing could also be using this network to gain intelligence on rival U.S. companies, and insights into U.S. diplomatic strategies and military counterterrorism operations.”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 cautioned.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the report authored by Joshua Meservey, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation:

[…] Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei in the African Union (AU) headquarters were daily uploading their content to servers based in Shanghai, China. An inspection of the building—built by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation—also uncovered listening devices hidden throughout the building. [Source: Le Monde, Financial Times]

Since 1966, Chinese companies have constructed or renovated (or both) at least 186 such buildings. In fact, at least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries have a government building constructed by a Chinese company. Given the difficulty of gathering comprehensive data on independent China’s nearly seven decades of engagement with Africa, these numbers are almost certainly an undercount. (…)

There are compelling reasons to believe—beyond the fact that it has already done so with the AU headquarters—that the CCP is using the opportunity afforded it by Chinese companies constructing government buildings to gather intelligence. Doing so would be in keeping with Beijing’s extensive use of espionage and other malpractice to gain an economic advantage. A 2017 report branded China “the world’s principal IP infringer,” while a recent U.S. Trade Representative investigation found that the U.S. loses at least $50 billion every year to unscrupulous Chinese activity.

[…] Chinese companies have built, expanded, or renovated at least 24 presidential or prime minister residences or offices; at least 26 parliaments or parliamentary offices; at least 32 military or police installations; and at least 19 ministries of foreign affairs buildings. Having surveillance access to these buildings is an extraordinary opportunity for the CCP to gather intelligence directly from the highest levels of African governments. (…)

[…] Chinese surveillance could enable Beijing to recruit highly placed assets within African governments. If the CCP collected embarrassing or harmful information on an African official, it could blackmail cooperation from him or her. Or surveillance could gather other information, such as a recruitment target’s financial situation, which could facilitate recruitment. Having Chinese assets peppered throughout governments on an increasingly strategic continent is an obvious problem for the United States.

The report also detailed China’s growing interest in Africa: “In two decades, China–Africa trade increased fortyfold, and China has dramatically increased its military cooperation, investment, and public diplomacy efforts on the continent as well.”

Beijing has played a long game in the continent. During the Cold War, China, along with Soviet Russia, trained and armed pro-Communist guerrilla movements across Africa. In Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, China even managed to push aside the rival Soviet contender, putting Robert Mugabe into power.

Today, the weapons might have changed but the Chinese designs on the resource-rich but impoverished continent have not. Communist China is now deploying tools of economic warfare to expand its influence in Africa. China uses ‘debt diplomacy’ to subjugate African governments. In March 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned African nations to resist the lure of easy Chinese cash. Those nations entering into agreements with China could “forfeit their sovereignty,” he rightly cautioned.

China, with its growing control over key ports, highways and railroads across Eurasia and Africa, poses a geostrategic threat to the Free World. Having embedded itself into the global free market, Communist China is freely helping itself to the West’s intellectual property and milking economic benefits on the free trade. Those gains have not translated into more freedom for Chinese citizens at home. Beijing’s growing economic clout has only encouraged Beijing to crush pro-democracy movements at home and threaten neighboring countries. Going by this track record, Communist China’s long-term footprint in Africa won’t be beneficial to the people of Africa either.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slams China’s dept diplomacy in Africa (March 2018)

[Cover image via YouTube]


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