While relations between the African Union (AU) and China have experienced ups and downs, the pan-African body has just announced the opening of a permanent mission in Beijing.
The resolution passed quietly. It was presented by the Executive Council of the African Union (AU), and approved by the Assembly of Heads of State. It provides for the opening of a permanent mission in China, in Beijing. The decision was validated at the 35th AU Summit in Addis Ababa last weekend.
As a reminder, the AU has permanent missions at the UN, the WTO, the European Union and the Arab League, in particular.
The mission will involve at least ten people, including a permanent representative of the AU in Beijing, several officials in charge of economy, trade, science and education, among others. The resolution does not specify when the mission will open, but we already know that “the recruitment of members of the mission will be progressive and subject to the available budget”.
The cost of the mission is estimated at 1 million dollars per year.
The representation of the AU in China seems to be logical: China is the main creditor of the continent, with a commercial flow exceeding 250 billion dollars. Thousands of Chinese development projects are currently underway with African states.
When for his latest China-Africa Cooperation Forum, which was held in Dakar, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised more investment on the continent, but also to encourage African exports to China on favorable terms.
More recently, in a message to the AU General Assembly on the occasion of its recent summit, Jinping assured that the year 2021 "has witnessed a vigorous development of China-Africa relations".
Indeed, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese direct investment and trade have reached record figures in Africa. However, more specifically, bilateral agreements with South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, DRC, Angola and Algeria, especially in infrastructure, look like a Chinese monopoly.
By 2020, China had already surpassed $44 billion in direct investment in Africa. And between 2003 and 2020, Beijing lent more than 150 billion dollars to African states, as part of its “New Silk Road” project.
… and at least good
On the other hand, relations between China and Africa, and specifically between China and the African Union, are marked by many scandals.
Among them, the famous Chinese “debt trap”. Several Chinese companies have seized sovereign assets of African states due to unpaid debts. Especially in South Africa, Kenya or Angola.
In 2018, investigation of the newspaper Le Monde had revealed that the headquarters of the African Union, built in 2012 by China, contained servers whose content was diverted directly to Shanghai, China. The Chinese engineers who had designed the building's IT infrastructure had then deliberately left two security holes, in order to siphon off the data stored on the servers between 2012 and 2017.
According to the media, the AU had then, in 2017, acquired its own servers, and the connection to the AU headquarters now goes through foreign operators, instead of Ethio Telecom.
China had denied these accusations, which it described as "absurdities". Nevertheless, with China monopolizing a large share of the African telecommunications market, through its entrenched and competitive companies on the continent, nothing is certain about China's respect for the digital sovereignty of African states.