Mainland China media coverage given to spy reports seen as a warning

Some say heightened scrutiny won't stop them from visiting online military forums

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 6:40am

The extensive coverage state media gave to a recent internet spying scandal was aimed at warning military enthusiasts against discussing sensitive information online, experts have said. But some have questioned whether the incident was as serious as the detailed reports suggested.

Spying cases are rarely discussed in state media, as they imply a security failure on the part of the authorities.

CTTV and the People's Daily reported this month an unnamed foreign country had for years used Chinese social media and internet forums to recruit spies and gather military information. At least 40 mainland internet users in 20 provinces had been recruited by an unnamed overseas spy agent via social media to provide information on military research between 2007 and last year, the reports had said.

Other state media gave detailed coverage to the story. In a follow-up the Global Times, which is affiliated with People's Daily, said state security organisations discovered at least 30 students from leading high schools or military-related universities had agreed to work for the overseas agents for money since 2012.

"The high-profile reports might be aimed at warning internet users to be careful of overseas internet friends," said Benjamin Xia, a military enthusiast from Changsha in Hunan.

"When you look back over the past decades, you find mobilisation of state media to report one issue is a common tactic adopted by the Communist Party when it launches political campaigns" such as against graft or red tape, he said.

The spies also used Tencent's instant messaging service, known as QQ, to find recruitments, the reports said

Students were contacted after they posted online messages seeking part-time work.

One person was jailed for 10 years for stealing military secrets.

Chen Baoshu, a Shanghai-based IT expert and military enthusiast, said the heightened scrutiny would not stop him or others like him from visiting forums, such as and that followed the latest developments in PLA equipment and weaponry.

"Some non-specialist military might be scared away because they are not clear about the definition of military secrets," Chen said. But people who were actually working inside the sector were aware of overseas spying threats, he said. It would be almost impossible to recruit them through such online friendships.

"I don't think the state reports are a big deal," he said.

"Do you believe a few thousand yuan could buy a real military secret?"