Belgian intelligence investigating logistics hub of China’s Alibaba at local airport
Alibaba says its presence at a cargo airport in Liège is compliant with ‘all laws and regulations’
Belgian officials are looking into risks around the presence of China’s Alibaba Group Holding at a cargo airport in the city of Liège, the country’s state security service (VSSE) said in a statement on Thursday.
Referring to the company’s main European logistics centre at Liège Airport, the security service said it was working to “detect and fight against possible spying and/or interference activities carried out by Chinese entities including Alibaba”.
Belgian authorities are looking into Alibaba’s operations at the airport based on an analysis of China’s legal framework, the statement added.
The presence of Alibaba “still constitutes a point of attention” for the VSSE, it said, due to legislation which obligates Chinese companies to share data with Chinese authorities and intelligence services.
Jonathan Holslag, a professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, told the Financial Times that the main source of concern was that Alibaba, “alongside a couple of other logistical platforms that the Chinese have been proposing to European countries, is giving them a lot of insights into supply chains and into eventual vulnerabilities.”
Holslag said there was also a risk Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics arm, could access information about final consumers. “Knowledge about important changes in consumption patterns and knowledge about the logistical chain is valuable for China as a country that tries to dominate the supply chain,” he said.
In a statement Cainiao, said “we strongly deny the allegations based on prior conjecture.”
“Cainiao is in compliance with all laws and regulations where it operates.”
Alibaba signed an agreement with the Belgium government in 2018 to open an e-commerce trade hub, run by Cainiao, that would include investment in logistics infrastructure.
The Chinese e-commerce company last month filed to list Cainiao on the Hong Kong stock exchange, which would make the unit the first to be separated since Alibaba said in March it would restructure and split its business into six units.