Chinese-Made Surveillance Equipment Used At Romanian Military Sites

By: - April 2, 2024

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Welcome back to the China In Eurasia briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China’s resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Looking ahead, we’ll be changing up the newsletter format and will start sending it out every week. Until then, it would be great to hear more about what you like about the newsletter currently and would want more of moving forward. Send me an email to [email protected] with your thoughts. Don’t be shy 🙂

I’m RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here’s what I’m following right now.

Chinese-Made Surveillance Equipment At Romanian Military Sites

An RFE/RL investigation found that surveillance equipment made by Hikvision and Dahua — two partially state-owned Chinese companies — is used by at least 28 military facilities in Romania.

Among those military sites, we found that a base in southern Romania that’s home to NATO’s Aegis Ashore land-based missile-defense system, which is operated with the U.S. military, uses Hikvision surveillance cameras.

Finding Perspective: In addition to the military facilities, RFE/RL’s Romanian Service also found that the equipment is in wide use by hundreds of other public institutions involved in national security in the country, ranging from the coast guard to sites operated by the Romanian Intelligence Service.

Concerns over data access and vulnerability to hacking aren’t unique to Hikvision or Dahua, but both companies have received bans in the United States, Britain, and Australia due to concerns over how data is stored, alleged links to the Chinese military, and both firms’ role in helping Beijing’s crackdown against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

Both brands also have an extensive history of security vulnerabilities that make them higher-risk to being infiltrated by hackers.

In a study released in 2021 by Lithuania’s Defense Ministry, they found hundreds of vulnerabilities that led them to recommend not using either brand.

There’s also been multiple glitches and breaches over the years that made them susceptible to hacks and their feeds being overtaken remotely.

Why It Matters: There’s an ongoing debate across the West about the risks of using Chinese tech in critical infrastructure.

Hikvision and Dahua are among the world’s leading providers of closed-circuit television and surveillance systems and their products remain popular across Europe and there are no EU restrictions against them.

When we reached out to Romania’s Defense Ministry about this, they said using the cameras was perfectly legal and that they keep them disconnected from the Internet to ensure a high-level of security.

And that’s all true. There is no ban in Romania and keeping them on a closed network can limit many of the vulnerabilities found in the cameras.

But surveillance-industry experts we spoke with, such as Conor Healy at the surveillance-industry research firm IPVM, said that there’s still risks that Hikvision and Dahua equipment could be hacked, even if it’s not connected to the Internet.

In the meantime, the debate in Romania is just getting started. Several lawmakers we spoke with after our investigation said that they want stricter rules over using the Chinese tech at national security sites and plan to bring it up in parliament.

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. Chinese Police To Budapest

After inking a security agreement in February with his Chinese counterpart, Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter confirmed that Chinese police will be stationed in Budapest as part of the deal, RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service reports.

The Details: According to the agreement, Hungarian and Chinese police officers “will be able to jointly conduct patrol services in the future, thereby helping more effective communication between the citizens and authorities of the two countries, improving internal security, and public order.”

The Hungarian Interior Ministry said that the aim of the deal was to improve security during peak tourist periods and generally during events that attract larger crowds.

The agreement has received lots of attention amid Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cozy relationship with Beijing — as well as Moscow and Tehran — and that he could be looking to undermine European security goals.

While that may be true, the deal itself should be seen in a wider context.

Beijing has signed similar deals in Europe with Italy and Serbia in the past. Both countries, along with Hungary, have a large Chinese economic presence and a large number of citizens. Rome, however, pulled out of the deal following uproar in 2022 over a constellation of secret police stations China was operating around the world.

As RFE/RL reported at the time, both Budapest and Belgrade were home to secret stations and the Hungarian and Serbian governments denied their presence despite plenty of public evidence showing otherwise.

Chinese nationals have become the largest minority group in Budapest and Beijing is highly focused on monitoring and controlling its citizens abroad — something that Orban’s government appears happy to help with.

2. The Eurasia Angle On Leaked Chinese Hacking Files

On February 18, a collection of documents from a Shanghai-based cybersecurity company was leaked to the online platform Github, offering the most credible public evidence to date about China’s expanding hacking ambitions.

Here’s a look at the Eurasia angle on the leaks.

What You Need To Know: I-Soon is a private company, but it’s a contractor for the Chinese government, police, and military, and the leak contains documents and communications that show the company using spyware to meet Beijing’s political interests.

The leaks show operations in various countries, with a focus on Southeast and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The group targeted telecoms networks in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, and also hacked Air Astana — Kazakhstan’s national airline — and Air Malaysia to get data for Xinjiang’s regional authorities in their ongoing crackdown against Uyghurs and other minority groups there.

3. Growing China-Russia Tech Cooperation

Russia is increasing its cooperation with China in 5G and satellite technology and this could facilitate Moscow’s military aggression against Ukraine, a new report by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) security think tank warns.

What It Means: The RUSI report details how the cooperation between Russia and China in 5G and satellite technology can also help Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Extensive deployment of drones and advanced telecommunications equipment have been crucial on all fronts in Ukraine, from intelligence collection to air-strike campaigns,” the report says. “These technologies, though critical, require steady connectivity and geospatial support, making cooperation with China a potential solution to Moscow’s desire for a military breakthrough.”

5G network development, according to the report, has gained particular significance for China-Russia ties, resulting in multiple agreements between Chinese technology giant Huawei and Russian companies MTS and Beeline.

For more, check out this write-up on the report’s main takeaways by my colleague Elitsa Simeonova.

Across The Supercontinent

Middle Corridor Milestone: The leaders of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan greeted the first containers delivered from China to Azerbaijan’s eastern Abseron district on March 11 via a new train route crossing Kazakhstan, RFE/RL’s Kazakh and Azerbaijani Services report.

More Visa-Free: After granting visa-free travel to Georgia, Beijing announced that it would also grant it to nationals from Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg starting on March 14.

A Message From Stockholm: As questions swirl across Europe about what the return of Donald Trump as U.S. president could mean for American support for Ukraine, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told Politico that Europe needs to do a better job of understanding U.S. security concerns about China in order to persuade Trump against scaling back support for NATO.

Multipolar Partners: Speaking on the sidelines of the Two Sessions, China’s annual parliamentary and political advisory meetings, Wang Yi vowed to deepen relations with Russia, as Beijing continues to assert the importance of what it calls a “multipolar” world order.

One Thing To Watch

Speaking of the Two Sessions, it wrapped up on March 11 after Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed to adopt several new pieces of legislation that aim to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security interests.

As William Yang at VOA wrote, China is grappling with strong economic headwinds that could blow it off course, but Xi’s focus appears to be on consolidating power and tightening security, all measures that are unlikely to boost the confidence of foreign investors.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have.

Until next time,

Reid Standish

If you enjoyed this briefing and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every other Wednesday.

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