Latvia’s yearly security assessment named China a growing cyber and espionage threat, alongside risks posed by Russia’s historical revisionism and foreign policy. Warsaw Institute, a think tank in Poland, analyses the report.
Chinese influence in the Baltics
At the end of April, the Constitution Protection Bureau (SAB), Latvia’s most important intelligence service, published an annual report, reviewing threats to the national security of their country.
A major part of the report concerned the threat from the Russian Federation, but there were also several references to the increasing influence and attacks from China.
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In comparison, China was not mentioned in the 2017 document at all, and in 2018 Beijing’s cyber operations aimed at obtaining data, mainly through economic intelligence, were mentioned.
China, on a par with Russia, was mentioned as the main cyber threat to NATO and the European Union.
According to the report, the number of Beijing’s cyber attacks is gradually increasing and poses a serious problem for the security and interests of Latvia and other Western countries. SAB analysts estimate that this trend will continue.
Over the last five years China has invested in tools to organise, centralise and streamline cyber activities. Hacker groups controlled by the Chinese secret services have evaluated their operational methods and improved their technical tools. The report also notes that China’s cyberspace operations have become more technically sophisticated and difficult to detect.
China’s cyber attacks also threaten the economic interests of the West. Such operations are carried out against public institutions, private companies, the academic community, government institutions, the military and defence sector and non-governmental organisations.
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The most common motive for attacks is to increase the competitiveness of China’s economy. However, there is also a significant increase in attacks on foreign and security policy-making institutions, which are aimed at obtaining information about policies and plans of countries that Beijing sees as strategically important.
Among the recommendations on information technology security, the report suggests specifically checking and avoiding products and services that are produced in countries running offensive cyber programmes against NATO and EU members. These include Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
Responding to the report, Beijing’s embassy in Latvia said that all statements about China’s spying activities were “unfounded and irresponsible”, adding that “unjustified speculation and stigmatisation is undesirable”.
It added that China was “a fierce defender of cyber-security who always strongly opposes and fights all forms of cybercrime legally”. The embassy spokesman's statement reminded that China was the main target of global cybercrime.
Russia’s use of historical revisionism and media manipulation
Although the report dedicates a considerable portion to China, “Russia should clearly be regarded as the main threat to Latvia’s national security,” it states, according to the country’s public broadcaster, LSM.
However, “other countries can also harm Latvia by posing a threat to the collective security or national interests of our allies,” it says.
According to the report, the Kremlin funds think-tanks and “pseudo-academic organisations” to counter the legitimacy of Latvia's and other Baltic countries' statehoods.
“The Historical Memory Foundation, for instance, specialises in working [in] the Baltic States,” the report says. The most prominent figures in the Foundation are Alexander Dyukov and Vladimir Simindey, who have been recognised as personae non gratae in Latvia.
The Russian Embassy in Latvia has also been allegedly paying for Russian-language articles in Latvian media “that are later published without any indications that the content is paid for and prepared in cooperation with the Russian Embassy”.
This story originally appeared on Warsaw Institute. LRT English edited the institute’s analysis for brevity, and added the section on Russia.