The Trump administration has cited concerns over Beijing’s scientific spying programme as the reason it wants to block a Chinese plan to build an $80m headquarters for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Ethiopia, amid growing competition for influence in the continent. “It’s a threat to Africa. Africa has vast amounts of genomic data and the Chinese want to build the CDC to eventually steal the data from all the other centres,” an administration official is quoted in a Financial Times report as saying. The official was referring to five regional Africa CDC hubs, some of which were built by the US. Based in Egypt, Nigeria, Gabon, Kenya and Zambia, which handle high-risk viruses, health crises, research and data collection.
The role of Africa CDC, launched in 2017 in the wake of the deadly 2014 west African Ebola crisis, is to respond to disease outbreaks including coronavirus. It is owned and part-funded by the AU’s 55 members, with additional financial support from the US, China, the World Bank and other donors including Kuwait and Japan. Its secretariat is based at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
“Out of nowhere the Chinese swoop in and want to build the Africa CDC headquarters,” the administration official said, adding that the US had invested $900m in the past 15 years to support health in Africa. “If the Chinese build the headquarters, the US will have nothing to do with Africa CDC.” Washington gave $14m to Africa CDC in its first year of operation and still pays the Africa CDC director’s salary along with those of senior medical staff seconded from the US CDC.
The report quotes a spokesperson for China’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson responded to the allegations, saying: “This is just as ridiculous as the recent allegation by some in the US that China is building the AU conference centre to steal AU data. It shows that some people in the US always make presumptions by their own pattern.”
Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson for the AU, said she was not aware of the Trump administration’s threat and could not comment on specifics but said the organisation had a “robust partnership” with the US which it hoped to scale up, and that it was also co-operating with China.
The report say the Chinese embassy in Washington referred questions to China’s AU mission, which could not immediately be reached for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment.Full Financial Times report