Officials across Europe have installed security devices made by Nuctech, a Chinese company with deep ties to China’s government and military.
Nuctech has quickly become the world’s leading company for transport industry scanners and other security equipment. The company has not been permitted to do business in the U.S. for years because of national security concerns. But an Associated Press investigation found Nuctech is successful across Europe.
The newsgroup says the manufacturer’s equipment is used in 26 of 27 EU member states. It is critical to operations at Europe’s largest ports. Airports from Amsterdam to Athens also depend on Nuctech products, as do NATO’s borders with Russia.
But an increasing number of Western security officials are concerned that China could use Nuctech equipment in cyberwarfare. They say China might interfere with Europe’s transport system. The experts also warned of possible illegal Chinese access to secret government, industrial and personal data through the company’s connections.
Bart Groothuis is a member of the European Parliament and former cybersecurity director at the Dutch Ministry of Defense. “The data being processed by these devices is very sensitive,” he said, noting that it included military information, personal information and more. “You want to make sure it’s in right hands,” he said.
Groothuis and others say Europe does not have tools in place to resist such possible threats. Different member states have taken opposing views on Nuctech’s security risks. No one has even been able to find out how many Nuctech devices have been installed across the continent.
Nuctech rejects those concerns. It says Nuctech’s European operations observe local laws, including strict security checks and data privacy rules.
Robert Bos is deputy general manager of Nuctech in the Netherlands, where the company has a research and development center. He said, “It’s our equipment, but it’s your data. Our customer decides what happens with the data.”
He said Nuctech is a victim of unfounded claims that have cut its market share in Europe nearly in half since 2019.
“In the 20 years we delivered this equipment, we never had issues of breaches or data leaks. Till today we never had any proof of it,” he added.
China’s national intelligence laws require Chinese companies to surrender data requested by state security agencies. Critics fear Nuctech would be unable to resist calls from China to release sensitive data about the shipments, people and devices that pass through its scanners. They say there is a risk China could use Nuctech’s presence across Europe to gather data about cross-border trade flows, pull information from local networks, or interfere with trade flows in a conflict.
Axel Voss is a German member of the European Parliament who works on data protection. He said, “This is becoming more and more dangerous. I wouldn’t mind if one or two airports had Nuctech systems, but with dumping prices a lot of regions are taking it.”
Voss added, “This is becoming more and more a security question. You might think it’s a strategic investment of the Chinese government.”
Nuctech’s Bos said the company keeps prices low by manufacturing in Europe. “We don’t have to import goods from the U.S. or other countries,” he said. “Our supply chain is very efficient with local suppliers, that’s the main reason we can be very competitive.”
Nuctech is opening offices in Brussels, Madrid and Rome. The company says it has supplied customers in more than 170 countries. Nuctech said in 2019 it had installed more than 1,000 security check devices in Europe for customs, air travel, ports and government organizations.
Human rights concerns are also a problem for Nuctech. The company does business with police and other officials in Western China’s Xinjiang area. Critics accuse the Chinese government of genocide for mass imprisonment and abuse of minority Uighur Muslims.
U.S. and European policymakers both have urged private companies to stop doing business in Xinjiang. European governments have continued to award tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Nuctech.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
install – v. to make a machine, a service, etc. ready to be used in a certain place
scanner – n. a device that is used to see inside something; a device for sensing recorded data
dumping – n. the selling of goods in quantity at below market price