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African Union caught in crossfire of US-China feud over Huawei

By Eric Olander
Posted on Tuesday, 19 November 2019 15:41

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Ghuang (left) speaking in response to allegations by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios (right) that Huawei spied on the African Union in 2018.

African countries are caught between two superpowers who are becoming increasingly hostile over accusations of spying surrounding Huawei technology.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang fired back at both Kratsios and the AU spying allegations during his regular press briefing in Beijing.

  • “The US official (Kratsios) again tried to hype up “China using Huawei to steal AU data”. It is apparently a despicable ploy driven by ulterior motives,” said Geng.
  • He then went on to accuse the United States of “running a planned and organized campaign of secrets theft, monitoring, and surveillance on foreign governments, businesses, and individuals.”

Huawei also responded to Kratsios’ speech in a statement published immediately after Kratisios’ speech last Thursday: “Singling out Huawei, Mr. Kratsios repeated a number of allegations that were hypocritical and manifestly false.”

While the U.S. and China use the African Union as a pawn in their increasingly acrimonious feud over Huawei, the AU itself has remained noticeably absent from the current debate.

With the U.S. and China both members of the AU, the African body likely sees that its best move here is to do whatever possible to stay clear of the crossfire.


Follow the discussion among the key players in the ongoing feud between the U.S. and China about Huawei and spying allegations at the African Union

The Kratsios Speech at the 2019 Web Summit in Lisbon

6:42 “Yet while we all work together to promote our principles and develop technology for the good of mankind, we must also defend ourselves against an increasingly aggressive government that is undermining our values and subverting the free and fair system that allows all of us to succeed.

“The Chinese government has built an advanced authoritarian state by twisting technology to put censorship over free expression and citizen control over empowerment. “

7:56: “Chinese law compels all Chinese companies, including Huawei, to cooperate with its intelligence and security services no matter where the company operates.”

8:06: “In perhaps the most disturbing account of espionage news outlets have reported after Huawei installed communications technology equipment at the headquarters of the African Union, their computer system was hacked and data was transferred to servers in Shanghai, every single night for five years.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang Responds to a Reporter’s Question at the Regular Press Briefing in Beijing

QUESTION: U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios at the recent 2019 Web Summit in Portugal again tried to dissuade countries from using Huawei equipment, saying that the Chinese government has been transferring data from the African Union’s headquarters to China for five years using Huawei IT equipment. What’s your comment?

FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN GENG SHUANG: Since last year Western media have tried repeatedly to churn out stories of “Beijing spying on AU headquarters”. Many African state leaders and the AU Commission chairman have publicly refuted this. It is nothing but fake news cooked by Western media and has long been thrown into the dustbin by our African friends. This time, the US official again tried to hype up “China using Huawei to steal AU data”. It is apparently a despicable ploy driven by ulterior motives. What is worth mentioning is that the US has long been running a planned and organized campaign of secrets theft, monitoring and surveillance on foreign governments, businesses and individuals. These are already open secrets. The US still owes the world an explanation.

Read the full transcript of Geng Shuang’s press briefing on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Statement from Huawei following the Kratsios Speech on Thursday

“We utterly reject the false claims against Huawei by Michael Kratsios, the Chief Technology Officer to US President Donald Trump, today at the Web Summit in Lisbon. Singling out Huawei, Mr Kratsios repeated a number of allegations that were hypocritical and manifestly false.”

“Huawei did not control data at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The solutions provided to the AU were controlled, managed and operated by the organisation’s IT staff and Huawei had no access to AU data.  Leaders of the AU rejected claims that Huawei was involved in any cyber security breach.  Furthermore, similar false claims were rejected in a recent court action in Lithuania, where the court described them as ‘unsubstantiated allegations’.”

Read the full statement by Huawei about Michael Kratsios’s comments at the 2019 Web Summit in Lisbon


It is interesting to note that a senior U.S. official is once again incorporating third-party sources of information in key policy speeches related to China.

In 2018, when former National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled the Prosper Africa policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, he referred to false news reports that claimed China was going to seize national assets in Africa for failing to payback infrastructure loans. “The nation of Zambia, for example, is currently in debt to China to the tune of $6 to $10 billion dollars. China is now poised to take over Zambia’s national power and utility company in order to collect on Zambia’s financial obligations,” he said falsely.

Kratsios’ reference to the alleged AU spying scandal is also somewhat tenuous as evidence of Chinese hacking.

The Le Monde story, while compelling and provocative, was editorially weak in that it relied exclusively on anonymous sources without any subsequent follow-up reporting on the issue. Normally, with stories this significant, other international news outlets would pursue their own coverage. Yet no other news organization found any evidence to corroborate Le Monde’s reporting and no other revelations on the issue materialized.

This is not to say that Le Monde’s reporting was necessarily wrong, only that the use of anonymous sources and the apparent lack of any follow-up reporting by Le Monde or other news agencies is editorially questionable.

So with this in mind, it’s interesting that yet again the Trump administration incorporated rather low-quality information to build its case against the Chinese in Africa and elsewhere around the world which also explains, in part, why Huawei and Beijing have been quite aggressive in their responses to the AU spying allegations — there simply isn’t any other evidence that refutes their position.

Meantime, the African Union stays quiet, preferring to sit on the sidelines while both sides slug it out.

This article first appeared in The China Africa Project.

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