Media regulation

China cracks down on 'illegal' maps

Threatening China's security?

Xinhua reports on a campaign to clean up the map industry in China:

The Chinese government is to crack down on illegal online map and geographical information websites, claiming they threaten state security, said an official of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) on Tuesday...

..."Some websites publish sensitive or confidential geographical information, which might leak state secrets and threaten national security," Min said.

He said those websites would be closed down.

Foreign organizations and individuals engaging in making and publishing online maps in China would also be stopped.

... Last year, China issued a regulation restricting surveying and mapping by foreigners to protect national security.

It stipulated foreign organizations and individuals who intend to engage in surveying and mapping must obtain approval from the central government and accept supervision from local governments.

The poor, old, crusty comrades of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, they're stuck in the 1960s, and that is why it is so difficult to get decent maps in China.

It's not actually difficult to get decent maps of China. Your correspondent likes a good walk in the mountains that surround Beijing, and has long since given up on locally published maps which are full of errors and inaccuracies. There is not a single Mainland published map of the mountains around Beijing that can compare to a printout of a Google Earth images, or to the excellent, highly detailed Soviet Union and U.S. military maps from the 1930s and 1960s that are available online for free if you look around a little.

Therefore unless you believe that a hostile power planning an attack on China would not use the Internet, there is no security risk that does not already exist. So, aside from the desire to suppress information that seems hardwired into the soul of the Party, why are the crusty comrades of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping unleashing this campaign?

It would appear that there are two real reasons behind the campaign:

The first is the government's insistence on maintaining the Party line about disputed territories, as explained in the Xinhua article:

The campaign would also target websites that made mistakes such as labeling Taiwan a "country", wrongly drawing national boundaries, or omitting important islands including the South China Islands, Diaoyu Islands and Chiwei Island, said Min.

The second and more compelling reason is, naturally, money.

Or rather, money and power. Film and TV regulator SARFT has made aggressive moves to ensure that Internet video is under their remit (see this Danwei post). This means that they control approvals, and thus ultimately have the last say in who invests in the industry and what kind of video they put on the Internet.

The mapping people see a similar threat from the Internet, and from the rapid growth of GPS navigation services. GPS devices have already become mainstream in China. Danwei's accountant is a recent migrant from Shanghai; she can't tell north from south but drives around Beijing like an old hand with a GPS device that knows all the one way roads, and tells her where to turn. You can get a GPS device for a few thousand yuan; subscriptions to navigation services start from a few hundred yuan a year. With new and directionally clueless drivers coming onto China's roads every day, the potential market is massive.

The one foreign company that will certainly be affected by an increasingly aggressive State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping is Nokia, whose global strategy is increasingly connected with navigation services to mobile phones.

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There are currently 5 Comments for China cracks down on 'illegal' maps.

Comments on China cracks down on 'illegal' maps


Yes, it's about money and power... we don't want various different editions of print maps coming out now, do we? There is still only one usable city map you can buy in Shanghai, production is monopolised, and the thing falls apart after about a year because they use the wrong sort of paper. Brilliant.

"Therefore unless you believe that a hostile power planning an attack on China would not use the Internet, there is no security risk that does not already exist."

This is not about "hostile power", it is about local dissidents. China can block all foreign maps on the internet so that Chinese won't know where things are.

The Chinese government knows where their dangers lie.

Its actually a serious offence for a foreigner to have a detailed topgraghical map of China, foreign staff of mining companies have to be very careful when leaving China to make sure they don't have any detailed maps on them, otherwise straight to,,,.

The reality of the situation is that in the age of satelite, email and the internet that these stupid rules are more of a joke and a hindrance to people who need these maps for work or play.

China has something to hide keep out

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