Last year, the Wall Street Journal and AP broke stories about how Chinese technicians from Huawei were working directly with government security forces in Uganda and Serbia to install advanced facial recognition cameras for surveillance purposes. Both countries have spotty human rights records. In Uganda, longtime ruler Yoweri Museveni faces upcoming elections in 2021 and is laying a repressive groundwork to intimidate would-be political opponents and suppress opposition voters. Similarly, Serbia under the ruling Serbian Progressive Party has increasingly moved in an illiberal direction. Both governments have strong incentives to use digital tools to counter their opponents and ensure their political survival. In both cases, the Chinese have proven to be willing partners.
What can we make of China’s involvement? Do its actions represent a larger effort to spread coercive technology in order to bolster non-democratic leaders? What is driving these trends?