And Finally

Hold your fire

Military buffs told to keep off internet forums

Chinese PLA troops practise marching as they arrive at Tiananmen Gate for a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Beijing

PLA capabilities debated online

In a message popularly reposted online, a prominent terrorist explains why China is the only country in the world that he will never target. He says his organisation sent three bombers there in the past, but none succeeded. One had his remote control device stolen in Wuhan’s overcrowded train station. Another got lost near Beijing’s Xizhimen Bridge (a complicated web of highway interchanges). And the third aborted his mission following a two-hour traffic jam in Shanghai.

Of course, this was a macabre joke (and yet another example of the thick vein of black humour that does the rounds on Chinese social media).

But part of the punchline has just proven to be uncomfortably close to reality for Chinese security forces. According to a report in the Jiefang Daily last month, a squadron from the People’s Liberation Army was sent on an anti-terrorist drill in Shanghai. However, the troops arrived 40 minutes late at the scene because they were caught in the city’s notorious congestion.

“An elite anti-terrorist unit loses a battle because of traffic jam,” the PLA-run newspaper commented.

The setback soon became a popular topic for discussion online. How fast a PLA unit could rush through Shanghai’s financial hub on foot, or the kind of helicopters that might be sent in to deal with terrorists, were debated with gusto.

In fact, fans of the Chinese military are one of the most active groups in the country’s online chatrooms. One of the most popular military discussion forums is Tiexue.net (the term tiexue means “iron blood” in Chinese – it was inspired by Otto von Bismarck’s “blood and iron” speech). Tiexue’s fans can also play online military games and has attracted over 10 million registered users. In fact, its holding company, Beijing Tiexue Technology, just went public on Beijing’s National Equities Exchange and Quotations board (an over-the-counter market, see WiC289).

Most internet portals and online newspapers have forums dedicated to defence issues, and not all of the users are amateurs. Many PLA officers and soldiers – serving and retired – take part and this is sparking fears that foreign spies might take advantage of the information being discussed.

In one of the more prominent recent examples ThePaper.cn reported last week that an internet user in one military discussion group “deliberately talked down the performance of certain PLA equipment”.

The dismissive remarks provoked the patriotic instincts of an army insider, who tried to correct the “mistakes” with his professional knowledge of the true capabilities of the weapons being discussed.

“A spy is clearly ‘fishing’ for classified information here,” ThePaper.cn cited a senior PLA officer as concluding. “Fortunately the leakage was stopped immediately to prevent sensitive data from being exposed on the internet,” added the same officer.


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