EU Commission President Warns China on Cyberattacks Against EU Hospitals

Ursula von der Leyen makes remarks after virtual EU-China conference to address key issues in relationship

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. Screenshot:

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has accused China of cyberattacks against European hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have seen cyberattacks on hospitals and dedicated computer centers, likewise we've seen in online disinformation and we pointed out clearly that this cannot be tolerated," she said on Monday.

Von der Leyen made the remarks at a press conference at the conclusion of a virtual EU-China summit with the participation of President of the European Council Charles Michel and High Representative Josep Borrell, along with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The summit was intended to address major points of the EU-China partnership, including trade, human rights and the response to the global pandemic.  Von der Leyen called the relationship “one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging.”

She added that while the conference was a starting point, more progress was required. “Progress implies cooperation by both sides, implies reciprocity, and implies trust.”

Only this past week, reports that China was reportedly the perpetrator of cyberattacks against Australia's public and private sectors circulated widely.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced at a press conference that a "nation-state actor" was behind the attacks.

"This activity is targeting Australian organizations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers, and operators of other critical infrastructure," Morrison said.

COVID-19 and cyberattacks

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic hospitals and information systems in the Czech Republic were the victim of a large-scale cyber-attack, though again China was not officially named as the perpetrator.

In June, NATO issued a statement condemning “destabilising and malicious cyber activities directed against those whose work is critical to the response against the pandemic, including healthcare services, hospitals and research institutes.”

The statement fell short of naming China, but days later NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech that the military alliance organization needs to stand up to China's "bullying and coercion."

"The rise of China is fundamentally shifting the global balance of power, heating up the race for economic and technological ­supremacy, multiplying the threats to open societies and individual freedoms and increasing the competition over our values and our way of life,” he said.