NewsChinese holdings in EU ports raise alarm over potential NATO data breaches

Chinese holdings in EU ports raise alarm over potential NATO data breaches

Port in Hamburg. The Chinese company Cosco owns 24.99 percent of the share package of the company managing this facility.
Port in Hamburg. The Chinese company Cosco owns 24.99 percent of the share package of the company managing this facility.
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Sascha Burkard
ed. TOS

6:01 AM EST, November 8, 2023

Chinese capital's presence in the ports of European Union nations represents a risk of cyber attacks, espionage, and breaches of sensitive data. According to the Italian daily "La Stampa," the most critical situations exist in Piraeus and Hamburg. The newspaper refers to an European Parliament report.

Companies from the People's Republic of China hold shares in various European ports. However, the EU authorities struggle to determine the extent of these direct investments by the Chinese government. According to the experts who compiled the report for the European Parliament's Transport Committee, such issues stem from excessively liberal economic policies and insufficient regulatory measures. The Italian daily "La Stampa" published these findings on Tuesday.

The report indicates that the primary concern is the Chinese impact on individual port strategies, involving choices of strategic partners such as container lines. Added to this is the cybersecurity threat, if Chinese companies gain access to communication systems and local networks. Although this threat is local, it could also "pose a wider risk to Europe, particularly concerning the armed forces of the EU member states and NATO."

Chinese companies invested $10.1 billions in acquisitions

The authors of the report estimate that Chinese companies spent upward of $10.1 billion acquiring European seaports between 2004 and 2021. The largest investors appear to be the Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) and China Merchants. The principal supplier of ship unloading cranes for European ports is Hanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company Limited (ZPMC).

Cosco solely controls the port in Piraeus, Greece. This situation is highly concerning the risks of cybersecurity threats and potential data leaks as stated in the report.

The authors suggest that Chinese intelligence services may have a vested interest in collecting data on advanced US military technologies. They recommend thorough risk management for Cosco's investments, in close collaboration with Western partners.

The issue is not exclusive to Greece, though. Chinese presence via corporate investments can be noted in ten EU member states (Poland, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden). The report especially mentions the situation at the port in Hamburg, Germany, where Cosco holds a 24.99% share in the company managing the facility.

Unrestricted access to German and NATO secrets

Due to Cosco's operations in Hamburg, the Chinese authorities potentially have far-reaching access to key systems and data, including German and NATO military secrets. As Alliance's ships regularly dock at the Hamburg port, Beijing could feasibly use Cosco's presence to collect sensitive information and intelligence, the study highlights.

The report concludes by stating the threats are most pronounced in Athens and Hamburg.

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