Belgium fears Alibaba is a den of spies

Belgium fears Alibaba is a den of spies, according to an article published Monday in the French newspaper Le Monde. The newspaper noted that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which entered Liege airport in 2018, is not without risk, according to Belgium’s justice minister.

Jean-Pierre Strobakant writes from Brussels that Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary, Cainiao Network, is developing at Liege Airport, one of Europe’s main “hubs,” and will it bring Chinese spies into Belgium as a result? In any case, both Belgian intelligence and the Belgian justice minister seem to believe that there is a real danger that some sensitive information will be accessed by agents.

The article writes that Belgian Environment Party MP Samuel Cogolati, who has been named by Beijing authorities as an opponent, has been sanctioned by Beijing for his support of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. The Belgian MP questioned the federal government in early May over Alibaba’s massive presence at Liege Airport in the Walloon Region. Alibaba is expected to invest 100 million euros in the area, which covers 220,000 square meters.

According to Cogolati, Alibaba is not simply a private company, and one that does the orders of the communist regime. Belgian Justice Minister Quikenborn replied in mid-May that, according to the intelligence service National Security Agency, there is a “certain” risk that China is trying to exert political pressure through Liege airport and through economic information. The Belgian justice minister also explained that under China’s national intelligence law, companies such as Alibaba are required to cooperate with intelligence agencies and to set aside positions internally for agents of intelligence services.

Belgian Justice Minister Quikenborn said that Chinese intelligence operatives thus have “access to sensitive and secure areas of airports.” He added, “Alibaba must comply with Chinese security agencies if they wish to access potentially sensitive corporate and personal data held by Alibaba in connection with its Liege airport operations.” The Belgian justice minister further noted that Belgian intelligence services had only suspicions in this regard, and no formal evidence.

In any case, the Belgian justice minister concluded, the Liege airport is of “strategic” importance to Beijing. In his reply to the Cogratti MP, the Belgian justice minister also referred to a Chinese law on cyber security, which requires companies to store their data on local servers and gives Chinese security services enormous powers to access companies’ computer systems even from a distance. Chinese security authorities also have the right to copy data, including data related to users. This law applies to any company that provides services via the Internet, including Alibaba.

The Belgian justice minister’s words made Jean-Luc Crucke, the Walloon minister in charge of Liege airport, uncomfortable. Crucke, the Walloon minister, said, “In Liege, Alibaba is only one of the customers. This is not the same as in the port of Zeebrugge, where 90 percent of the port is in the hands of China’s COSCO group.”

Kruk also said, “I never received any warning from the federal government or the Department of Homeland Security.” He said the justice minister’s answers to the MPs were used when they were conditional or based on his impressions. Walloon Minister Kruk added that the real problem is the “success story” of Liege Airport. He is not ready to have his feet stepped on.

The Walloon government, which relies heavily on Liège airport to contribute to the development of the Walloon region, stressed that the federal government has still not implemented the mechanism for filtering foreign investments provided for in the 2019 European Regulation. This mechanism should make it possible to determine the possible impact of foreign investments on national security.

In terms of Alibaba, the article in Le Monde stresses that Alibaba is currently keeping silent. Meanwhile, the leadership of Liege Airport stresses that for it, security is “at the heart of the company’s development”.