As the United States leads a drive for the West to shun Huawei over security fears, the Chinese tech giant has sought to strengthen its position in Africa, where it is already well-established.
Huawei has taken a leading role in developing next-generation 5G mobile phone networks around the world.
But it has been in turmoil since Washington charged its equipment could serve as a Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence services.
The world’s second smartphone marker fiercely denies the allegations, but the US has urged countries to avoid it and several companies have distanced themselves.
They include Google, whose Android operating system runs most smartphones.
And as Washington and Beijing duke it out in an escalating trade war, nations around the world are faced with the dilemma of having to choose a side between the world’s two top economies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in last Friday, slamming Washington’s attempt to “unceremoniously push” Huawei out of the global market. Earlier in the week, Russia’s MTS telecoms giant signed a deal with Huawei to develop a 5G network in the country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, a guest of Putin at an economic forum in Saint Petersburg, said China was “ready to share technological inventions with all partners, in particular 5G technology”.
But will the escalating fight lead to African nations having to choose between China – the continent’s top trade partner – and the US?
“For African countries this trade war may end up a binary choice. It will be very difficult for Africa to just ignore” it, said independent economic analyst Aly-Khan Satchu based in Nairobi.
Huawei, now a major factor in US-Chinese tensions, has looked to strengthen its ties in Africa, last week signing an agreement to reinforce its cooperation with the African Union.
“This was a way to show that Huawei is still present in Africa and that they want to remain a major player by positioning themselves in this very important growth sector,” said Ruben Nizard, an economist and Sub-Saharan Africa specialist at the French financial services firm Coface.
The deal comes after the French newspaper Le Monde reported in 2018 that China had spied on the African Union’s (AU) headquarters in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, citing sources inside the organisation.
The report said the spying began in 2012 after the completion of the AU’s new headquarters that was financed by China, and was only noticed when technicians discovered data on the building’s servers was being sent to Shanghai. Continue reading