Is one of China’s largest companies spying at a Belgian airport?

From spy balloons over the US to concerns around telecommunications company Huawei, tensions between the West and China are ramping up as China increasingly establishes itself as a global power – and one forecast by some to surpass the US economically, at least for a while. The latest political tiff comes not from the US, but from Belgium, where the country’s state security service (VSSE) said they would be looking into Chinese holding group, Alibaba, enquiring into “possible spying and/or interference activities” at Liège Airport, where the Chinese company houses its main European logistics centre.

Founded in Hangzhou, Zhejiang in 1999, Alibaba Group Holding Limited is a Chinese multinational. According to its rather vague registration statement, it specialises in “e-commerce, retail, Internet, and technology.” Its focus is on consumer to consumer, business to consumer and business to business sales services in China and abroad. But this is no backwater front: Alibaba went public on the New York Stock exchange in 2014, raising $25bn. The company then signed an $800m sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee, set to last from 2017 to 2028. As of the 2020 Forbes Global 2000 list, Alibaba was the 31st largest public company in the world – which begs the question, if you’re going to set up a company with a sideline in espionage, surely there are less conspicuous ways to do it?

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