China’s ruling Communist Party gifted the parliament of Zimbabwe — a severely impoverished nation that regularly struggles to feed its own citizens — a new luxury building on Wednesday, with Xinhua, China’s official state press agency, describing the opulent space as a “six-story building [that] is a fine piece of magnificent architecture.”
Beijing said on June 29 that it had fully funded the parliament building’s construction through the state-owned Shanghai Construction Group Company (SCG). Cai Libo, an SCG project manager, told Xinhua on Wednesday the new facility was “a gift from the Chinese government to the Zimbabwean government. It was funded by China Aid funds, it’s a grant to Zimbabwe and not a loan so there is no payment to be made in the future.”
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) June 30, 2022
Detailing the massive structure, Xinhua wrote:
The imposing building has a combined floor space of 33,000 square meters, with two main sections — a six-story office building and a four-story parliament building. The office building and parliament building are connected by three bridges on each floor.[…] The office building contains 600 rooms, including offices for VIP, Members of Parliament and parliament officials.
In total, the building has the capacity to accommodate 1,000 people.
Zimbabwe’s socialist government is a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese government program allows Beijing to fund infrastructure projects in nations with developing or lower-income economies, often through dubious loan structures. The program has received criticism for its propensity to push already indebted nations further into debt to Beijing after many inevitably fail to repay the infrastructure loans. Observers of the BRI believe China uses the scheme, in part, to forward the global agenda of its ruling Communist Party.
The BRI counts 43 sub-Saharan African nations among its 147 global members. Most of these African BRI members also belong to the African Union (AU). Observers have repeatedly accused Beijing of bugging the AU’s headquarters building in Ethiopia’s federal capital of Addis Ababa. China’s government fully funded and constructed the $200 million showpiece structure in 2012.
The AU in January 2020 discovered that suspected Chinese hackers had spied on surveillance camera footage recorded at the group’s headquarters building. Reuters reported on the incident in December 2020, writing:
Acting on a tip from Japanese cyber researchers, the African Union’s (AU) technology staffers discovered that a group of suspected Chinese hackers had rigged a cluster of servers in the basement of an administrative annex to quietly siphon surveillance videos from across the AU’s sprawling campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
The security breach was carried out by a Chinese hacking group nicknamed “Bronze President,” according to a five-page internal memo reviewed by Reuters. It said the affected cameras covered “AU offices, parking areas, corridors, and meeting rooms.”
The French newspaper Le Monde reported in 2018 that suspected Chinese hackers had “installed listening devices in the [AU] headquarters,” Voice of America recalled in January 2021. “The report alleged that servers in the AU headquarters were secretly sending data to a computer system in Shanghai each night between midnight and 2 a.m.”