Lithuania has warned its citizens to avoid using smartphones from China over concerns of censorship, saying that Xiaomi phones, in particular, have actual built-in censorship software.
On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry of Lithuania said that Xiaomi phones sold in Europe such as the 1810.HK flagship device has the capability to censor or block internet search results for terms such as “Free Tibet”, “Long live Taiwan independence” or “democracy movement”.
“This is important not only to Lithuania but to all countries which use Xiaomi equipment,” the Defence Ministry’s National Cyber Security Centre said in a report.
Speaking to reporters in Vilnius, deputy defence minister Margiris Abukevicius said per Reuters: “Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible.”
The report found that currently at least 449 Chinese terms are censored by Xiaomi system apps, including the default internet browser for the phone. The cybersecurity body noted that the list of banned phrases is updated continuously.
While the censorship capability was supposedly turned off for the Mi 10T phone for the “European Union region”, Lithuania noted that it can be turned on remotely at any time.
Another worry raised was that the Xiaomi phone was sending Lithuanian encrypted messages to a server in Singapore.
Security concerns over Chinese tech have been longstanding, with the Trump administration warning the UK last year that Huawei has the capability to build backdoors into their 5G networks to be used for espionage.
Tensions have been rising between Lithuania and China since the NATO member decided in May to withdraw from the 17+1 group of Eastern European nations, which sought to increase Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure spending in the former Soviet bloc.
Diplomatic relations were further soured after Lithuania took the bold step of opening up a defacto Taiwanese embassy, enraging the communist government in Beijing which still lays claim to Taiwan despite the island nation having its own distinct government, currency, and culture.
In August, the CCP decided to recall its ambassador from Vilnius and the state-run Global Times newspaper even threatened to go to war with the “crazy, tiny country” over the issue.
“China will not allow Lithuania to become an example for other countries to follow. Some European countries must not think about using the Taiwan question as leverage against China. The Taiwan question cannot be used as a bargaining chip. It is a high voltage line, even a watershed between peace and war,” the communist mouthpiece wrote.
In an exclusive interview with this publication following the threats, Lithuanian MP Dovilė Šakalienė said that her country “does not respond well to threats… we’ve been used to threats for more than half a century (under Soviet Rule).”
Šakalienė, who was sanctioned in March by China for spearheading legislation condemning the “genocide” of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, added: “We are small but we are tough and we will make our own decisions on who we partner with.”
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