Google 'breaching China's state secrecy laws'

China is to investigate Google and other websites for allegedly breaching state secrecy laws and showing “illegal” maps of the country.According to Min Yiren, vice head of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, authorities hope to get rid of online maps that wrongly depict China’s borders or that reveal military secrets, the People’s Daily said.

No fewer than eight ministries and bureaus are to examine online maps to see whether they breach laws or undermine the country’s “territorial integrity”.

Territorial integrity is usually a code word for ensuring that maps and other documents clearly mark the island of Taiwan as part of China, as China claims, and do not distinguish it in some way as to suggest it might be independent.

It could also refer to the complex patchwork of zones along China’s long and mountainous border with India that are bitterly disputed between the two countries.

When satellite images first went online, Chinese internet users – now the most numerous in the world – took great delight in sharing the co-ordinates of previously invisible places such as the central leadership compound in Beijing and operational military bases.

Online maps could reveal much about aspects of Chinese life, from labour camps to military installations, when set against such images. Last week, satellite photographs of China’s newly expanded submarine base on the island of Hainan were disclosed.

Mr Min said there were 10,000 illegal maps online in China. According to People’s Daily, “redrawing China’s borders” was the top concern of the investigation, which started last month.

Apart from Taiwan, other disputed islands include the Spratley and Paracels in the South China Sea, which are claimed by a number of south-east Asian states as well as China, and the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, which are currently occupied by Japan.

The bureau gave no indication of what the result of the investigation was likely to be. Most of the companies named were China’s own internet giants, such as the Sohu.com chain of websites and Baidu, the most popular Chinese search engine, all of which conform tightly to government censorship requirements.

Google China is also obliged to conform, censoring its search facility to focus on approved websites. But much of its operations are hosted on Google servers elsewhere, over which the Chinese authorities have no authority, though they can order them to be blocked by the so-called “Great Firewall” of China.


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