Illegal mapping ‘serious’ in western China

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-3 0:58:01

Security threatened by lack of national autonomy in geospatial technology

Illegal mapping is a "serious" problem in remote areas of western China, according to five annual announcements on typical illegal mapping practices released by the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation (NASG).

Most of those areas are underprivileged and lack sufficient mapping information, and they are often targeted by espionage because many key national defense and military facilities are stationed there, Zhao Kangning, former deputy director of China's National Administration of Global Navigation Satellite Systems and Applications, told the Global Times.

The disclosure of detailed geographic information related to defense or military facilities leaves them open to threats of attack, as many modern military devices are capable of conducting long-range precise attacks, military experts previously told the Global Times.

According to NASG, the most frequent unlawful actions are unauthorized mapping and the processing or printing of "problematic maps," which contain information that is wrong or that is classified to protect national security, China's National Defense News reported Wednesday.

Of the seven examples of illegal mapping cases revealed by the NASG in April, three involved unauthorized mapping, including an April 2015 case in which six Taiwanese illegally entered a closed military area in Hami, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to collect geographic information.

One of the Taiwanese was fined 30,000 yuan ($4,560) after he was found to have used GPS receivers in the mainland to collect 35,207 sets of geographic coordinates from seven provinces and cities since 2009, according to the NASG's announcement.

China's National Defense News reported that the illegal obtainment of geographic information by overseas organizations and individuals is common, particularly in Xinjiang, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Northeast China's Liaoning Province and Northeast China's Jilin province.

"Shaanxi has captured many overseas individuals that conducted illegal mapping in recent years, and illegal mapping is on the rise," a Shaanxi Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation official told the newspaper.

The official claimed that many foreigners and associates of foreign organizations pretend to travel, investigate water resources, hike or conduct archaeological studies in order to target national defense projects and military facilities.

A Japanese national was deported in 2011 after being caught illegally surveying and mapping in Shaanxi Province. The government of Yunnan Province also investigated Coca-Cola for illegally mapping part of the province using electronic devices in 2013, according to previous reports.

Xu Yitian, an expert at the National University of Defense Technology, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that the leaks of geographic information and cases of illegal mapping that have occurred in recent years were mainly due to a lack of national autonomy over the collection, supervision and application of data needed for mapping. 

According to the NASG report, domestically produced geographic information technologies and equipment account for over 50 percent of those available in China, but the long way to go to realize autonomous control presents a potential danger that cannot be overlooked.

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