Lithuania says built-in cybersecurity risks found in Chinese-made Xiaomi and Huawei phones
September 22, 2021 / 10:57 AM / AP
Vilnius, Lithuania — Lithuanian cybersecurity experts are urging the country’s government agencies to abandon the use of Chinese-made smartphones after an investigation identified security vulnerabilities and censorship concerns with certain devices. Lithuania’s National Cyber Security Center said it found four major cybersecurity risks for devices made by Huawei and Xiaomi, including two relating to pre-installed apps and one involving personal data leakage, and warned against using these two brands.
There’s also the risk of possible restrictions on freedom of expression with Xiaomi phones, which contain a content-filtering feature for 449 keywords or groups of keywords in Chinese characters. The center warned the function could be activated at any time and did not rule out the possibility that words using Latin characters could be added. According to the Lithuanian report, apps receive updated lists of censored words and phrases and are capable of blocking them.
The cybersecurity center, which is a Defense Ministry agency, also investigated phones made by another Chinese company, OnePlus, but found no problems.
“We strongly recommend that state and public institutions not use those devices and plan to initiate legislation which regulates acquiring certain devices for the ministries and various state agencies,” Deputy Defense Minister Margiris Abukevicius said Wednesday.
More than 200 public authorities have purchased such phones, and over 4,500 phones are in use, “which, in our opinion, increases the risks,” Abukevicius said. He didn’t specify the makes of all the phones.
The center’s investigation, released Tuesday, was done “to ensure the safe use of 5G mobile devices sold in our country and the software they contain,” he said.
Also, ordinary “people should also know what’s inside these phones, about the certain software and consider safety before making their decisions,” the minister said.
Earlier this month, Lithuania recalled its ambassador to China following the Baltic country’s decision in July to allow Taiwan to open an office in its capital under its own name. In August, China recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and told the Baltic nation to “immediately rectify its wrong decision.”
China says Taiwan is part of its territory and doesn’t have the right to diplomatic recognition, although the island maintains informal ties with all major nations through trade offices, including in the United States and Japan. Chinese pressure has reduced Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies to just 15.
Taiwan and Lithuania agreed in July that the office in the capital, Vilnius, set to open this fall, will bear the name Taiwan rather than Chinese Taipei – a term often used in other countries in order not to offend Beijing. On Wednesday, Lithuania said it was sending another 236,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan.
The China-Lithuania Rift Is a Wake-Up Call for Europe
China is bullying Lithuania. The EU and NATO should push back.
September 22, 2021, 4:42 PM
Lithuania has joined the growing list of countries around the globe that have been subject to Chinese coercion. It’s time for the trans-Atlantic partners to respond with a policy akin to NATO’s Article 5 common defense commitment. Call it “coercion against one is coercion against all.”
China has put NATO ally Lithuania in the crosshairs over that nation’s relationship with Taiwan and its challenge to China’s efforts to gain a political foothold in Central and Eastern Europe.
Lithuania’s challenge to China is twofold. First, the Baltic country authorized Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius, to be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, and then announced plans to open a reciprocal office in Taipei by the end of the year. China objects to the use of the word “Taiwanese” in the name of the office in Lithuania.
But such usage does not contradict the “One China” policy that Europe and the United States follow. Neither office is an embassy, nor does opening the offices imply recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. The United States has a similar “American Institute in Taiwan,” which is a U.S. government-sponsored private entity that is staffed by State Department officials and carries out diplomatic functions. Many other nations have similar arrangements.
Lithuania’s second challenge to China was to withdraw this year from the so-called 17+1 cooperation agreement between China and Central and Eastern European countries. That informal arrangement promised Chinese infrastructure investments in the region but was increasingly used by China to maximize its diplomatic influence.
Beijing has retaliated by recalling its ambassador from Vilnius, limiting trade, and suspending rail service between the two countries. While the economic impact on Lithuania is thus far limited, diplomatically it is a wake-up call for the remaining European members of the now 16+1—and indeed for all of Europe.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has urged European unity in the face of Chinese retaliation. “From our perspective, it is high time for the EU to move from a dividing 16+1 format to a more uniting and therefore much more efficient 27+1,” Landsbergis said. “The EU is strongest when all 27 member states act together along with EU institutions.” Lithuania is correct to call for solidarity in dealing with China. But that solidarity should go beyond just the European Union to include the entirety of the trans-Atlantic nations and cooperation where possible with Asian partners. The response should be comprehensive, including diplomatic, economic, security, and institutional elements.
The Lithuania-China dispute could be looked on as a minor matter. But its implications are much broader, and an appropriate set of responses offers an opportunity to put trans-Atlantic relations with China on much firmer footing. Solidarity is critical. In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, we must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.
Franklin D. Kramer is a distinguished fellow and on the board of the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense.
Hans Binnendijk is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He formerly served as National Security Council senior director for defense policy and arms control during the Clinton administration and as a vice president at the National Defense University.
But Lithuania is getting used to China’s rancor. Its June announcement that it plans to open a representative office in Taipei, and a reciprocal arrangement in Vilnius, was galling for Beijing — particularly the decision by both sides to use the name Taiwan (instead of Taipei). The move was interpreted as a measure of support for the democratically run island, which China claims as part of its territory. Ambassadors were recalled, harsh words spoken, trade ties cut and rail freight halted.
Instead of being cowed, Lithuania is doubling down. A day after Deputy Defense Minister Margiris Abukevicius recommended people get rid of Chinese handsets “as fast as reasonably possible,” the Cabinet announced a ten-fold increase in Covid-19 vaccine donations to Taiwan. China is alleged to have interfered with Taiwan’s procurement, delaying its vaccine rollout — a claim it vigorously denies.
Lithuania’s first donation of 20,000 doses 1 announced in June was largely symbolic, as was its decision to use the name Taiwan for its diplomatic outpost. But such gestures matter.
This “small power, large voice” threat to China extends beyond warming Vilnius-Taipei ties. Poland is likely to cite data security concerns for a possible decision to drop BGI Group, a Chinese gene-sequencing company, from a project to build a genomic map of the country, Reuters reported Wednesday. BGI takes data protection, privacy and ethics seriously, and complies with the law, the company told Reuters.
In response to Lithuania exchanging diplomatic offices with Taiwan, Chinese television host Tian Liu called for the Chinese Communist Party to confront the European country with an “iron fist.”
Liu also urged the application of the mindset “why not kill the chicken to frighten the monkey” to Lithuania in a video posted to Chinese social media platform Weibo on September 2nd.
The reporter also pledges that “any country that challenges our country’s red lines must pay a price.”
“How dare such a small country challenge our great nation,” she asks before reiterating, “let’s teach them a lesson.”
“Since Lithuania is obstinate, we don’t mind making it suffer a little,” she asserts before outlining how China limited its imports to and exports from the country:
The media reported on the 23rd that Lithuanian exporters began to complain that China had stopped buying cheese, timber, and grain after relations between the two sides had reached a deadlock. China’s big timber traders, for example, are considering leaving for other markets. And local milk processing factories have stopped supplying China due to a sharp drop in orders. The general manager of a Lithuanian company said in an interview that he felt very helpless, because 99% of the goods of his company were sold to China in the past, but now the sales suddenly stopped, and he had no choice but to move the company to other E.U. member states.
“We have seen so many arrogant countries, but each one will eventually learn the same lesson: do not mess with China,” she notes.
“If they don’t feel pinched, we don’t mind cutting them off completely,” Liu adds before emphasizing, “an iron fist might be the best way to respond.”