China, African leaders slam Le Monde's AU headquarters hacking claims



China, African Union and other African leaders have dismissed a French media report that accused Beijing of bugging and hacking into the AU headquarters in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and stealing classified data.

While Beijing slammed the report as “utterly groundless and ridiculous", AU and other African leaders denounced it as “sensational”, questioning the timing of the publication on the eve of AU Summit.

French newspaper Le Monde, in an article last week, quoted anonymous AU sources to allege that confidential information from the computers at the AU headquarters were transferred to Chinese servers every night for five years.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying addresses a press conference

on January 30, 2018.

“We never interfere in Africa's domestic affairs and never engage in any activity detrimental to Africa's interests. China-Africa cooperation will in no way be disrupted by the nonsense report of Le Monde,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Tuesday.

China’s Ambassador to the AU Kuang Weilin had earlier slammed Le Monde article as “ridiculous and preposterous”, calling it a part of the Western propaganda to put pressure on the growing ties between Beijing and the African nations.

“China-Africa relations have brought about benefits and a lot of opportunities. Africans are happy with it, some others are not,” Kuang said, adding that “some people in the West…are not used to it and they are simply not comfortable with this.”

Chinese ambassador to the African Union (AU) Kuang Weilin speaks to journalists during the 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, January 29, 2018.

“The Chinese Ambassador to the AU has made a solemn response to the question you just raised. What was reported by Le Monde in this case is utterly groundless and ridiculous,” Hua said when asked to respond on the subject.

“The African people knows the best and is in the best position to say whether China-Africa cooperation is good or not. China will continue to uphold justice while pursuing shared benefits and follow the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith so that China-Africa cooperation will bear richer fruits,” she added.

Le Monde report quoted the anonymous sources as claiming that the alleged data transfer had been taking place since the inauguration of the Chinese-funded 200-million-US-dollar building in 2012. The alleged hacking was detected only last January due to a spike in activity between midnight and 02:00 a.m. despite the building being empty.

“The AU Headquarters was built with assistance from the Chinese government upon requests from the AU, as an important measure to promote African efforts of gaining strength through unity and advance African integration. After its construction, the AU Headquarters received universal and high appreciation from the AU and the African countries,” Hua said.

'Timing highly suspicious'

Heads of state and other top delegates pose for a group photo during the opening ceremony of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 28, 2018.

The French news report came as the AU heads of state met last week for their annual summit in Addis Ababa. Former Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Erastus Mwencha on Tuesday told Xinhua that "the timing of the story is highly suspicious."

"A very respected newspaper that publishes such a sensational story on the eve of the summit?" Mwencha asked, adding that "I really don't see anything [in the AU headquarters] that this newspaper printed."

"As for me, I will denounce it for the content that it says," he said.

"Obviously, everybody knows that at the moment there are a number of other parties in the world who are not comfortable with the close relationship between China and Africa" and "would of course want to see this relationship not going forward," he said, hinting at the West.

Erastus Mwencha, the then Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission speaks during a press conference in Addis Ababa on October 27, 2014.

"Africa is not naive to the fact of its history and where we come from and Africa is not naive to the current challenges we have and where we are going," he added. "We know how we have been partnering with China in many ways," Mwencha stressed.

"What is there first of all to spy? What secrets are here that somebody would spy about?" Mwencha asked.

Asked whether such reports could have an impact on the partnership between Africa and China, Mwencha said that "I can tell you right away that it will not affect (the partnership) and there are a number of reasons why it will not."

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who assumed this year’s AU chairmanship on Tuesday, echoed Mwencha’s remarks while rejecting the report.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who is the current AU chairman, speaks during the closing session of the 30th AU Heads of State and Government Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 29, 2018.

“But, in any case, I don’t think there is anything done here (AU headquarters) 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, adding: “But I will not have been worried about being spied on in this building.”

African leaders, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, have also dismissed the French media report.

"There's nothing to be spied [on] because [the] China-Africa relationship is very strategic, comprehensive," Desalegn said.

AUC Chairperson Moussa Faki also told a press conference at the end of the summit that he did not find any sign that the AU building was being spied upon.