The government is investigating the possibility that agents of the Chinese government are operating out of Liege airport, according to federal justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).
The minister was speaking yesterday to members of the justice committee in the parliament, and a question from member Samuel Cogolati (Ecolo).
“Chinese intelligence agents could have access to sensitive and secure areas of the airport,” he admitted.
The weak link could be the Chinese online retailer Alibaba, which uses the airport extensively as a hub for distribution of its goods throughout Europe.
According to a 2017 law, Chinese companies are obliged to cooperate with government agencies, and even to open up posts in their operations to agents of the security services, regardless of where their operations are being carried out.
Given the central situation of Liege, and the fact that it is likely to be less closely guarded than Zaventem, it would appear that the airport presents an ideal opportunity to implant agents there inside what is a major Chinese presence in the form of Alibaba.
“Alibaba also has to obey the Chinese security apparatus in the event that the latter wishes to have access to potentially sensitive commercial and personal data held by Alibaba in the context of its activities in Liège,” Van Quickenborne added.
But commercial intelligence, while useful, is not all.
“This interest is not limited to intelligence and security purposes but can be viewed within a broader political and economic framework,” he told MPs.
Since last October, member states of the European Union are obliged to screen foreign inward investments for their potential impact on security and public order. Given China’s investment in its installation at Liege airport, should that not offer some protection against misuse, members of the committee asked.
“Our country does not yet have such a mechanism,” Van Quickenborne admitted.
A temporary solution has been found by making the economy ministry a national contact point, he explained. The ministry is also working hard to develop this mechanism in Belgium, he said.