In a harsh bid to limit outsiders’ views of Chinese military developments, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is cracking down on unofficial, previously open-source military information on the web. Numerous websites and forums have been shut down, and warnings issued to amateur Chinese military commentators that even unwitting revelations of military secrets by patriotic defense enthusiasts could lead to jail time.
As intended, this will likely hinder Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) efforts focused on learning more about China’s massive, ongoing military buildup.
According to Defense News (DN), the online purge began when a Twitter-like ‘Weibo’ account run by the military’s official newspaper, the PLA Daily, posted a warning to China’s military enthusiasts to avoid being “unwitting tools for foreign intelligence services.” Soon thereafter, several accounts that covered Chinese military affairs on the local social media application Sina Weibo were suspended.
Analysts suspect that the crackdown was provoked by recent incidents where photos were published on social media of different Chinese weapons systems still in development.
Defense News reported that:
The Weibo account, Jun Zhengping Studio, which roughly translates to “Military Discussion Studio,” cited a recent incident where a photo published on social media showed “a weapon that has yet to enter service,” which became “key intelligence” for foreign agencies seeking information on China’s defense and military developments.
It’s unclear what recent revelation the commentary was referring to; although in recent months, video of a Xi’an H-6N bomber carrying what is believed to be an air-launched hypersonic glide vehicle as well as photos taken discreetly from a distance showing elements of the internal layout of China’s third aircraft carrier currently undergoing construction at a shipyard near Shanghai first appeared on China’s social media.
The crackdown is potentially detrimental to those who use open-source material to analyze China’s military developments. Other examples of such sources include a regular stream of photos showing the progress of the aforementioned aircraft carrier undergoing construction at Changxing island near Shanghai, sometimes taken by passengers on commercial airliners taking off from or landing at the city’s Pudong airport.
Other open-source material includes images acquired through commercial satellite imagery, which help counter the secretive state of China or sometimes misleading information put out by state-controlled media.