BRUSSELS: Belgian authorities are concerned that a vast new logistics hub planned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba could prove an opportunity for Beijing’s intelligence services.
The huge distribution centre being built outside Liege airport will give the firm a base to serve all of western Europe and form part of a global network.
It has been welcomed by officials in Belgium’s Wallonia region as an economic windfall but, amid mounting diplomatic tension, federal authorities are concerned.
Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told MPs this week that Chinese law forces all private companies — including Alibaba — to cooperate with state intelligence.
“Companies like Alibaba are required to open posts within the business to their agents,” he said, in response to a question from a parliamentary commission.
“In practice, they could have access to sensitive and secure areas of the airport or to commercial and personal data held by Alibaba,” he warned. The minister said that the Surete de l’Etat, Belgium’s domestic intelligence agency, had warned of the dangers of China using economic power as political leverage.
The Chinese government does not always see eye-to-eye with Alibaba, which was recently fined nearly $2.8 billion (2.3 billion euros) for abusing its dominant market position in its home market.
But Beijing’s relations with Europe and the United States are also at a low ebb, amid criticism of its political crackdown in Hong Kong and of its treatment of the Uyghur minority. China recently imposed sanctions and travel bans on eight senior European officials, including a Belgian MP and several Brussels-based European Union figures.