Belgium’s intelligence service, the VSSE, is closely monitoring Alibaba’s logistics hub in Liège, Belgium, due to concerns about potential espionage and the gathering of sensitive economic information through its software systems. Although Alibaba, which invested €100mn into the hub, denies any misconduct and asserts adherence to all relevant laws, the Belgian government remains wary, especially in light of Chinese laws requiring data sharing with its authorities. The hub, managed by Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary Cainiao is under scrutiny not only for espionage concerns but also in the context of customs fraud involving Chinese companies.
Belgium’s intelligence service is scrutinizing Alibaba’s logistics hub in Liège, Belgium, amid espionage concerns. The Chinese company, which denies any wrongdoing, invested €100mn into the hub, aiming to bolster the economy of the Walloon region. However, the Belgian State Security Service (VSSE) has been monitoring Alibaba’s operations, focusing on software systems that gather sensitive economic information. The presence of Alibaba is deemed a “point of attention” due to Chinese legislation that mandates data sharing with Chinese authorities.
The Liège site, operated by Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary Cainiao, primarily manages goods sold to European consumers via AliExpress. The hub, situated in an industrial area with direct access to the airport’s airfield, is currently applying for a permit to significantly expand its warehouse space. Initial concerns about potential espionage were voiced even before the hub was established, with China vehemently denying any exaggerated security risks. Despite these assurances, the VSSE’s concerns have persisted post-launch.
Cainiao’s software, part of Alibaba’s “electronic world trade platform” (EWTP), is identified as a potential espionage risk. The platform provides extensive insights into supply chains and a potential vulnerabilities, according to Jonathan Holslag, a professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Furthermore, logistics centers are reportedly expected to relay information about local sentiment and European trade and logistics data to Beijing’s authorities. Cainiao asserts that data from its Liège hub is stored in German servers and adheres to all relevant laws and regulations.
Belgium’s government, which initially welcomed Alibaba, now faces challenges due to espionage warnings and increasing cases of customs fraud involving Chinese companies at Liège airport. The initial hope was that commerce facilitated by Alibaba would ameliorate Belgium’s trade deficit with China and stimulate the economy. However, Belgium’s trade deficit has expanded from €3.7bn in 2021 to €9.1bn in 2022, with only a fraction of goods being exported back to China, presenting a complex economic scenario.
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