China uses Alibaba's Euro logistic hub to spy on stuff, Belgian intelligence fears

Cloud and e-commerce giant mussels up, says allegations are waffle

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba’s logistics hub at a Belgian airport poses a "possible espionage" concern, according to the European nation’s state security service, the Veiligheid van de Staat (VSSE).

As first reported by the Financial Times, Belgian intelligence officials have been monitoring Alibaba's logistics arm, Cainiao, at the Liège cargo airport for any indication of spying or other forms of espionage involving shipments on behalf of Beijing.

The VSSE is keen to "detect and fight against possible spying and/or interference activities carried out by Chinese entities, including Alibaba," according to a statement issued to media outlets.

Alibaba was unable to answer the questions we put to it about this affair. A spokesperson for the mega-corp earlier told CNN: "We strongly deny the allegations … based on prior conjecture. Cainiao is in compliance with all laws and regulations where it operates."

The Chinese e-commerce and cloud giant plans to float Cainiao and spin it out in the next six months to a year.

The VSSE's concerns center on software systems that collate sensitive economic information, according to the FT, citing "people familiar with the matter."

Because China's national intelligence law can force Chinese organizations to share info with the government, "China has the intent and capacity to use this data for non-commercial purposes," the VSSE told the newspaper.

The logistics hub, which opened in 2021, primarily handles goods purchased from online souk AliExpress by European consumers. We guess there's a fear that Beijing, via Alibaba, can get an idea of the sorts of stuff flowing through the facility or mess with people's goods.

Cainiao is reportedly applying to more than triple the size of its warehouses at the airport, from 30,000 square metres to 100,000 square metres. Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium's justice minister, told the FT negotiations with Alibaba to locate the logistics center in the country took place in "a former century," and that "times of naïveté have changed."

The snooping concerns come as Western countries issue further warnings regarding Chinese espionage and data theft.

Over the summer, Chinese spies are thought to have stolen more than 60,000 emails belonging to US government officials after breaking into Microsoft-hosted Outlook and Exchange Online accounts.

Late last month, US and Japanese government agencies warned that Beijing's spies may be hiding in Cisco routers and using that access to steal organization's IP and other sensitive information.

Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly warned that China has 50 hackers for every one of the bureau's infosec operatives.

In late September, however, China flipped the script and accused the US of breaking into Huawei servers and stealing data as far back as 2009. ®

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