A Weibo account affiliated with the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army, warned Chinese military enthusiasts on the social media platform against becoming unwitting tools of foreign intelligence agencies.
In a post made after the alleged suspension of several military enthusiasts’ accounts, the Jun Zhengping Studio said that military enthusiasts must possess a “sense of confidentiality” when posting, due to the high interest of foreign intelligence agencies in Chinese military developments. It warned readers that “whether it is intentional or unintentional, leaking classified information on the internet will do harm to the country and potentially lead to prison terms”.
The post and a subsequent editorial in the notoriously hawkish Global Times refer to a recent incident where a photograph of a “weapon that has yet to enter service” wound up providing foreign intelligence agencies with an intelligence windfall. While said weapon was not detailed by both publications, it could have been the video reveal of what appeared to be an air-launched ballistic missile being carried by a Xian H-6N. The video wound up confirming suspicions that the latest model of the strategic bomber had been modified with a recess for the conformal carriage of such a missile.
As is the norm with the highly monitored Chinese internet, Chinese military enthusiasts have long had to play a game of cat and mouse with Chinese authorities, never quite knowing whether censors’ opinions of the photographs or renders of new hardware released or under development would change overnight, resulting in removed posts, suspended accounts or outright bans. However, this has not stopped them from piercing cloaks of official silence over the years, most notably with the Chengdu J-20 stealth aircraft, whose early testing was extensively photographed by photographers lurking near a Chengdu airfield without a single word of acknowledgement out of Beijing.
With Xi Jinping’s drive to further strengthen control over information flow in Chinese society since becoming president of China, it is perhaps not so surprising that the PLA would similarly seek to crack down on those whose curiosity might reveal the next big Chinese military development. However, even the threat of a crackdown alone without action could provide a chilling effect deemed sufficient until the next major leak. Even so, one shouldn’t bet against the tenacity of the truly intrepid.