There is so much happening in China and with such rapidity that I find it difficult to keep pace with it. I do hope that the Indian intelligence agencies are keeping themselves abreast of what has been going on in China and the role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in it.
The PLA has been making remarkable use of the Internet and China’s vast and ever-growing community of Netizens to keep their people informed of its achievements and to create a national pride in them. They are using the community of Netizens — many of them apparently military personnel — in various ways to collect information about the rest of the world, to disseminate information about China and its military achievements and to undertake a psychological warfare.
The way the PLA made the world aware of its success in developing a Stealth aircraft much before the West expected it to do so is a good example of how it uses the Internet to project its strength.
Till a few months ago, I used to spend about an hour every morning to go through China’s government and party controlled print media in order to get a hang of what has been going on in China. Now I find that the monitoring of the print media alone is no longer adequate for a proper understanding of China. One has to do a systematic monitoring of the mushrooming web sites, blogs and micro-blogs. The English used in these sites and blogs is of poor quality as compared to the excellent English in the print media. As a result, one has difficulty in having a proper understanding. One has to visit multiple sites for a clear understanding.
The way the PLA made the world aware of its success in developing a Stealth aircraft much before the West expected it to do so is a good example of how it uses the Internet to project its strength. In December, many Internet sites in China carried pictures of a prototype Stealth aircraft undergoing runway tests in an airfield near Chengdu.
Then on January 11, as Robert Gates, the visiting US Defence Secretary, who arrived in Beijing on January 9, was getting ready to call on President Hu Jintao, Internet sites in China were full of pictures of the Stealth aircraft undergoing its first test flight from an airfield near Chengdu in the Sichuan province for about 15 minutes on January 11. It has been reported that some Netizens actually gave a virtual running commentary of the flight. If true, this would have been possible only if the PLA had alerted military-connected Netizens about the impending test flight.
It has been reported that Gates asked Hu during his meeting with him whether these accounts are correct. It has been further reported that Hu confirmed that the reports are correct, but he claimed that the first test flight had nothing to do with Gates’ visit and that it had been planned sometime ago.
Gates was apparently taken by surprise by the test flight on the day he was meeting Hu, but was Hu himself aware that the PLA was going to carry out the test flight that day? Some reports say that while the PLA had taken the approval of the Central Military Commission for the test flight, its doing so on the day of Gates’ meeting with Hu was a surprise even to the Chinese political leadership. It will be difficult to confirm this. However, it is noticed that Xi Jinping, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Vice Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission and President of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, had reportedly visited Chengdu around this period.He is projected as Hu’s successor-designate as the Chinese President and party General Secretary . The reports of his visit would tend to rule out the possibility of the PLA taking the political leadership by surprise by timing the test flight on the day of Gates’ meeting with Hu. According to the BBC, Xi Jinping visited the airfield on January 8 presumably to witness a test flight that was aborted due to bad weather.