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Huawei is put on Belgian intelligence's watch list.

According to private documents obtained by the media and three people with knowledge of the situation, Belgium's intelligence service is closely monitoring the operations of telecommunications giant Huawei as concerns about Chinese espionage near the EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels mount.

The State Security Service of Belgium (VSSE) has recently asked for interviews with former workers of the firm's lobbying operation in the center of Brussels' European district. The people, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation, said that the intelligence gathering is a part of security officials' efforts to examine how China may be using non-state actors — including senior lobbyists in Huawei's Brussels office — to advance the interests of the Chinese state and its Communist party in Europe.

The probe of Huawei's EU activities comes as Western security agencies are sounding the alarm over corporations with links to China. Officials from the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and the Nordic countries, as well as those working for the EU, have all been advised to avoid using TikTok on their work phones due to similar worries to those raised about Huawei, namely that Chinese security laws require Chinese tech companies to hand over data.

The investigation also comes amid mounting proof that foreign governments influence EU decision-making, a pattern that was dramatically highlighted by the recent Qatargate affair, in which the Gulf state attempted to sway Brussels through the use of intermediary groups and bribes. The Belgian security services are responsible with overseeing operations directed by foreign actors surrounding the EU institutions.

When questioned about the intelligence gathering, the State Security Service refused to comment.

A Huawei representative said that the firm was not aware that the intelligence service was questioning employees at the company's Brussels office.

According to the sources, Belgian intelligence agents aim to ascertain whether Huawei's Brussels branch has any connections to the Chinese government directly. They went on to say that Huawei representatives who may have previously held positions in Brussels institutions and had access to a network of EU contacts are of particular interest.

The question of whether Huawei, which has its headquarters in Shenzhen, China, may be used, coerced, or infiltrated by the Chinese government to access vital data in Western countries, is at the heart of Western worries about the company.

During the past ten years, Huawei's EU lobbying offices have played a significant role in shaping EU policy. One is situated between the buildings of the European Parliament, European Commission, and Council, and the other is a "cybersecurity transparency center" adjacent to the U.S. embassy. With a declared maximum spending of €2.25 million annually, the company is among the top 30 corporations in terms of EU lobbying expenditures in Brussels according to the most current corporate filings. It entered the top 10 of lobbying spenders in Brussels in 2018, at the exact beginning of the geopolitical storm that hit the company.

For the past ten years, the company's Shenzhen headquarters has tightened its supervision over operations at the Brussels office. In 2019 it replaced its then-head of the EU office Tony Graziano — who had a long track record of lobbying the EU and had overseen Huawei's Brussels office since 2011 — with Abraham Liu, a firm loyalist who had risen up the ranks of its international operations. Tony Jin Yong, who presently serves as Huawei's main representative with the EU, later took Liu's post. Also, it has frequently hired Chinese employees to assist with its public affairs initiatives.

According to a November investigation, the Chinese telecoms giant began scaling back its footprint in the EU last year and consolidating its operations across Europe under its regional headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany. Several of the firm's Western strategists who had tried to fight off bans and blocks of its equipment in previous years were let go as part of that reorganization.

Huawei has repeatedly emphasized that the company is independent of the Chinese government. "Huawei is a commercial operation," according to a spokeswoman. When asked if the business had a procedure to determine which of its employees were members of the Chinese Communist Party, the spokeswoman responded, "We don’t ask about or interfere with employees’political or religious beliefs. We treat every employee the same regardless of their race, gender, social status, disability, religion or anything else."

One major issue raised by Western security officials in previous years is Huawei's compliance with Beijing's 2017 National Intelligence Law, which requires businesses to "support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts" as well as "protect national intelligence work secrets they are aware of." Huawei has its headquarters in China.

The representative responded to the company's frequently asked questions page on the subject when asked how it responds to legal requests from the Chinese government for data handover, which states: "Huawei has never received such a request and we would categorically refuse to comply if we did. Huawei is an independent company that works only to serve its customers. We would never compromise or harm any country, organization, or individual, especially when it comes to cybersecurity and user privacy protection."

Huawei has received criticism from Belgian security services in the past years. In 2020, the National Security Council of the nation put limitations on its use in crucial 5G network components.

Belgium is a minor market, but because it is home to the EU institutions and the transatlantic NATO defense alliance's headquarters, Western allies view it as strategically significant.

The interest in Huawei by the Belgian State Security Agency is a result of growing concern over China's activities in the EU capital. The intelligence agency published a report in 2022 outlining its conclusions regarding the activities of lobbyists supported by China in Brussels. The VSSE attacked the Chinese government for engaging in "a grey zone between lobbying, interference, political influence, espionage, economic blackmail and disinformation campaigns," according to the report.

The Chinese embassy in Belgium responded to the research by claiming that the intelligence agencies "slandered the legitimate and lawful business operation of Chinese companies in Belgium, seriously affecting their reputation and causing potential harm to their normal production and operation."

Not just in China. The intelligence service stated in its report that "Undue interference perpetrated by other powers also continues to be a red flag for the VSSE. The recent interference scandal in the European Parliament is a case in point."

Regarding that case, police raids turned up €1.5 million in cash, and the Belgian authorities have so far prosecuted a number of people in the ongoing criminal investigation investigating claims of bribery between Qatari and EU representatives.



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