Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:30 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:30 | SYDNEY

Spying aint what it used to be


Sam Roggeveen


29 August 2012 17:26

There's excitement among online China-military watchers today as the first blurry images emerge of a new class of destroyer, the Type 052D. The unfinished paintwork tells you the ship is not completed, but the bunting suggests it's about to be launched: 

I don't want to go into a deep analysis of the ship or its larger strategic significance right now (here's a slightly excitable take from the Taiwanese press). Instead, let's dwell for a moment on how this photo emerged. In fact, one participant at SinoDefenceForum who goes by the handle 'steve_rolfe' asked that exact question (nb. the name of the shipyard in question is Jiagnan, shortened to JN):

While it looks like a new ship is about to be hatched...........there's one thing that ive always wanted to know.........who takes these bleedin photos at the JN shipyard, and why do they take the pictures from awkward angles and behind various objects?

The answer came back from 'hmmwv':

Check out Jiangnan on Google Earth and you'll see how many objects are obstructing the view of the military launch basin. The photographers are members of HSH forum, they take the regularly scheduled ferries and take photos when it passes in front of JN, at a distance of roughly 2 miles from the assembly hall. Compare with other shipyards Jiangnan is completely lacks public access, in this instance the photographers don't even get the chance to return to Shanghai on the same day and had to spend the night on the other side.

In other words, Chinese military enthusiasts take a ferry past the shipyard just so that they can take photos of it, probably at some risk of arrest and certainly at a personal cost in time and money. Presumably, they go to this effort both to impress their online peers and show off their country's achievements.

But although these photos often reveal new details for foreign intelligence agencies to pore over, China's online censors are aware of what's going on, and in fact, they may even be exploiting these military fanboys.