Dutch PM Raises Cyber Espionage Case With China’s Xi

The Chinese President Xi Jinping has been confronted about Beijing’s cyber espionage activities, during a state visit to China by the Dutch leader.

According to Reuters, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he had discussed a recent incident of cyber espionage, which the Netherlands directly blamed on the Chinese state, during talks with President Xi on Wednesday.

This tops off a bad week for China being publicly called out for cyber espionage activities. On Monday both the US and UK had imposed new sanctions on Chinese nationals and companies, after accusing the country of sustaining a cyber-attack campaign that has lasted more than a decade.

Nation state hacking

The Chinese cyberattacks included a hack on the UK’s Electoral Commission, disclosed last year, that resulted in the theft of the personal details of about 40 million voters.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, found that four British MPs critical of Beijing had also been targeted in a separate attack.

The UK government this week summoned the Chargé d’Affaires at the Chinese Embassy, after attribution of cyberattacks to Chinese state-affiliated individuals and organisations.

Last week the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had warned US state governors that foreign hackers are carrying out disruptive cyberattacks against water and sewage systems throughout America.

In late 2023 the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence agencies came together in a rare move to directly accuse China of conducting cyberattacks for intellectual property theft, as well as using AI for hacking.

Earlier in 2023 the Five Eyes intelligence agencies, as well as Microsoft, had warned that critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere was being spied upon by state sponsored Chinese hackers.

In July 2022, the heads of the FBI and MI5 in London held a remarkable public meeting in which they warned business leaders that the Chinese government was set on stealing their technology for competitive gain.

MI5 director general, Ken McCallum, and Christopher Wray, the FBI director

Xi discussions

Now Reuters has reported that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has discussed the issue of cyberattacks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.

It comes after the Dutch intelligence agency MIVD said last month that Chinese state-backed cyber spies had gained access to a Dutch military network last year.

They called it part of a trend of Chinese political espionage against the Netherlands and its allies.

It was the first time the Dutch publicly attributed cyberespionage to China, as national security tensions grow between the two countries, Reuters noted.

The two countries are also in a confrontation over restrictions of exports to China of high-tech semiconductor equipment made by Dutch giant ASML.

In February 2023 ASML had revealed that a former employee located in China had stolen data relating to proprietary technology.

It came after ASML had reached a confidential agreement with the United States government to restrict the export of its technology to China.

Beijing routinely denies allegations of cyberespionage and says it opposes all forms of cyberattacks.

“Of course we discuss all difficult topics,” including cyberattacks, Rutte was quoted as telling reporters after the talks in Beijing on Wednesday.

“Of course this has been very openly attributed to China by the Netherlands,” Rutte reportedly said. “It was an attack on the Dutch Ministry of Defence that our MIVD has identified and also attributed to China. So yes, of course, I discussed it.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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