The Times: Western concern over China’s control of European ports

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The Times newspaper says that a NATO official warns of the security threat posed by China’s control of European ports.

The official says Beijing’s ownership of communications networks, ports and shipping is viewed with increasing concern by Western security agencies in their assessment of the threat posed by China and Russia to critical infrastructure in Europe.

Following the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline last fall, NATO created a special military unit to investigate the security of critical undersea infrastructure.

While the focus was on the immediate threat posed by Russia to undersea cables and pipelines, the coalition additionally identified the risks posed by Chinese ownership of key infrastructure, particularly communications and ports.

The NATO official told the Times, “Russia can blow it but China has it… It’s not the same threat factor but it’s a real concern”.

Does China want to make peace or expand its control and influence?

The Times notes that after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the deepening of the alliance between Moscow and Beijing in recent years, Western intelligence has identified Chinese control of infrastructure as a strategic threat.

The war revealed the economic dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and now, amid the growing tension between Beijing and Washington and the conflict over Taiwan, reliance on Chinese companies has emerged.

The threat is China’s control of infrastructure that can be used for espionage purposes, such as communications networks, but also to restrict trade through control of shipping, a Western intelligence source said.

In moments of geopolitical crisis, China can use its telecom or shipping assets to choke off data or trade flows in order to weaken or challenge the West’s strategic response, he added.

In recent years, some European governments, including Sweden and Britain, have banned parts made by the Chinese company Huawei for 5G networks on national security grounds, by acquiring dominant or significant stakes in telecommunications infrastructure.

“There are concerns that the Chinese could read what was running on their networks, but also that they could rein in data flows again at critical moments,” the source said.

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