09/22/2021, 13.24
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Vilnius targets Chinese cell phones: they spy and censor

by Emanuele Scimia

The Xiaomi cell phones focus of concerns: they censor expressions like "free Tibet" and "democratic movement". Lithuanian cyber analysts: at the moment there are 449 expressions censored. High tension between the Baltic Republic and Beijing. Lithuanian diplomacy seeks to downplay situation.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The Lithuanian Ministry of Defence has advised consumers inside and outside the country not to buy Chinese cell phones or to dispose of them if in possession.

A report issued yesterday by Vilnius' National Cyber Security Centre states that cell phones made in China and sold in Europe have an in-built system that identifies and censors terms sensitive for the regime of Xi Jinping, such as "Free Tibet," "democratic movement" and "Long live Taiwan independence." There are currently 449 censored expressions, but the software continues to update them.

The Lithuanian authorities' suspicions focus on the Xiaomi Mi 10T 5G model. The manufacturing company is the world's second largest exporter. It says it has "shut down" its data collection capabilities in Europe, but according to cyber analysts in Vilnius they can be reactivated remotely at any time.

The Lithuanian researchers also point out that the Xiaomi phone sends encrypted phone data to a server in Singapore: the same happens with Huawei's P40 5G, but not with models from OnePlus, another Chinese manufacturer.

According to several media outlets, Huawei has denied the accusations made by Lithuanian authorities - Xiaomi has done the same with an official note. Accused of spying for the Chinese state first by Donald Trump, and now by Joe Biden, Huawei has been hit hard by the US boycott of its products.

As previously pointed out to AsiaNews by the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, a NATO-accredited cyber defence hub based in Estonia, countries buying 5G networks from Huawei cannot completely eliminate the risk of coming under the scrutiny of Chinese intelligence agencies. The only solution is to avoid acquiring Chinese-made technology equipment altogether.

In recent months, relations between Lithuania and China have become very tense. On August 10, Beijing has recalled its ambassador in Vilnius: a protest against the decision of the Lithuanian government to allow the Taiwanese to open a representative office under the name "Taiwan". The Chinese Communist Party maintains the island is a "rebel" province to be reunified by force if necessary.

The Lithuanian ambassador in Beijing has also returned to his country. Contacted by AsiaNews on the state of relations with China, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry was cautious. "In line with the One-China policy Lithuania is determined to pursue mutually beneficial economic and cultural ties with Taiwan, like many other countries in the European Union and the rest of the world do. We hope that the recent issues in Lithuanian and Chinese relations will be resolved by diplomatic means based on mutual respect and international law,'" explained a Vilnius spokesman.

However, Lithuanian diplomatic officials would neither confirm or deny press reports that the Chinese have also imposed trade sanctions, such as suspending freight train service to Lithuania and stopping new export licenses for Lithuanian producers. "At this stage," says the Lithuanians, "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not in a position to provide any further comments on this issue."

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