Belgian PM sees China as ‘hostile’ country after espionage allegations

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo on Wednesday described China as a “sometimes very hostile” country, following allegations that Beijing had recruited a member of the Belgian far-right party Vlaams Belang as an intelligence asset.

“We should not underestimate how much foreign powers do not like our democracy, our unity. Unlike Russia, China is not attacking our continent, but it remains a country that is sometimes very hostile. It shouldn’t be dismissed as nothing,” De Croo told Belgium’s two leading newspapers Le Soir and De Standaard.

“Belgian democracy is being sold. The Chinese are trying to buy influence in order to destabilize our democracy. With Chinagate, or should I say Chinese Interest, it is all unrolling before our eyes.”

De Croo was reacting to reports from The Financial Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel newspapers last week claiming that Frank Creyelman, of the Vlaams Belang party, had been working with Chinese spies for at least three years.

Tom Van Grieken, leader of the Vlaams Belang, which is in favour of Flemish independence, expelled Creyelman from the party on Friday following the allegations.

De Croo also said Steven Creyelman, brother of Frank Creyelman and also a member of Vlaams Belang, should be removed from the presidency of the parliament’s defence purchases committee, but acknowledged that was not his call.

“My motto is: better safe than sorry. He chairs one of the most sensitive committees in Parliament,” the Belgian Prime Minister said, drawing a comparison between this alleged Chinese espionage affair and the so-called “Qatargate” scandal.

Qatargate, the biggest scandal to rock European Union politics in decades, hinges on suspicions that Qatar and Morocco bribed politicians, parliamentary assistants and non-governmental organisations to influence decision-making in the EU assembly.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Geert de Clercq and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Bernadette Baum)