Chinese giant Alibaba investigated for possible espionage in an important European port

Alibaba logo in Beijing (Reuters)
Alibaba logo in Beijing (Reuters)

The Belgian security services have under surveillance the operations center of the Chinese company Alibaba in Belgium for “possible espionage”, at a cargo airport in the city of Liège, the country’s intelligence service, VSSE, reported in a statement on Thursday.

In reference to the company’s main European logistics center at Liège airportthe security service said it was working to “detect and combat potential espionage and/or interference activities carried out by Chinese entities, including Alibaba”.

Belgian authorities are investigating Alibaba’s operations at the airport based on an analysis of the Chinese legal framework, the statement added.

Alibaba’s presence “still constitutes a point of attention” for the VSSE, he said, due to the legislation requiring Chinese companies to share data with Chinese authorities and intelligence services.

He Financial Times, which first reported the news, said Alibaba denied any wrongdoing. Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China intends and has the ability to use this data for non-commercial purposes.”the Belgian security agency warned the newspaper. One of the areas of scrutiny, as noted by the FTIt refers to the introduction of computer systems that collect sensitive economic information.

Liège cargo airport, Belgium (via Reuters)
Liège cargo airport, Belgium (via Reuters)

Alibaba signed a deal with the Belgian government in 2018 to open an e-commerce hub, run by its logistics arm Cainiao, that would include investments in logistics infrastructure for more than 100 million euros.

Cainiao, what has processed a permit to triple the size of its warehouses to 100,000 square metershas rejected any irregularity.

The Chinese e-commerce giant last month filed to list Cainiao on the Hong Kong stock exchange, which would make the unit the first to be spun off since Alibaba said in March it would restructure and split its business into six units.

“Data security and privacy protection are of utmost importance to our business. “We comply with all laws and regulations, including the GDPR,” the company said in a statement. Financial Timesin reference to the data protection regulation of the European Union.

The Belgian Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, highlighted the FT that the first negotiations with Alibaba were “from the last century”, indicating a change in attitude towards Chinese investments. “Naive times have changed”, he slipped. A new Belgian law, in force since July, limits foreign investments in critical infrastructurewhich reflects a more cautious approach.

The Liège logistics center mainly handles goods sold directly to European consumers via AliExpress. Although Alibaba denies any wrongdoing, doubts about the possibility of espionage were raised before the center was built, and those doubts persist.

(With information from Reuters and EFE)

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