The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has pushed to develop its own Satellite Navigation System, BeiDou, to break its dependence on the already-known American GPS and European GALILEO.
On November 4, China’s State Council Office released the white paper “BeiDou in the New Era,” which talks about its latest update while trying to extol the virtues and advantages of using this new Chinese system.
According to Ran Chengqi, director of the Satellite System Management Office, BeiDou has an accuracy of 99.9% and can give the coordinates to the receiver with a margin of error of plus or minus 33 feet (10 m), in some cases between six to ten feet.
The promotion includes slogans such as “it is always connected with the outside world,” “Having BeiDou gives a sense of security,” and “it can improve agricultural efficiency.”
During the presentation conference, Chengqi explained that the dream of satellite connection could be solved from a cell phone without changing the card or number and without adding peripherals. A BeiDou chip alone could send messages from anywhere worldwide without relying on the coverage given by local antennas.
“Without a cell phone signal, it can still send text messages, report its location and provide its location tracking,” Chengqi said.
He also remarked that the Beidou satellite navigation system has already provided services to countries along the “Belt and Road initiative” and is used by more than half of the world’s countries and regions.
But several experts and academics have raised the alarm and shown the dark side of this system. Because of its particularities, the CCP could use it to collect big data, increase surveillance and control over its citizens and jeopardize the national security of the countries that acquire its services.
Su Ziyun, director of Taiwan’s National Defense Security Research Institute, told Radio Free Asia that the BeiDou upgrade consisted of increasing the number of satellites to extend the range of coverage and make it more effective. In addition, the new cell phones come with internal keys and use digital services to “package the essence of surveillance.”
He said, “In China, where your cell phone doesn’t have a base station, the party can still find it. Satellites are all-terrain, which I call a ‘digital Communist Party’ monitoring service. Even if there is no cell phone signal, with this satellite positioning system, whoever the party needs to look for, it finds them; it’s like a ‘digital Gestapo.'”
During the interview, Ziyun added that BeiDou provides services overseas, including satellite positioning for efficient agricultural use and possibly being used to construct hospitals and other infrastructure. However, this raises the danger of paying additional costs not considered in a contract. Apart from economic collaboration that can result in “debt-trap diplomacy,” the allocation of land for the installation of the necessary equipment, which would remain under CCP control, can be used to capture internal information more accurately. It would amount to the “space version of Huawei.”
Jiang Yaqi, associate professor at Taiwan’s Haida School of Ocean Policy, opined similarly, noting that if BeiDou is used to collect and analyze data from utilities, transportation, agriculture, etc., the data is collected and controlled by the CCP so that they could use it for surveillance, monitoring, and espionage.
Yaqi said, “For example, all countries and regions strive to dominate space. If the ground communication system is intercepted or blocked, and the space communication system is used as a backup, it will inevitably be monitored if it cooperates with China. At a critical time, cooperation with satellites, a sudden shutdown of the system, which in turn monitors hostile forces, could have a major impact on the country.”
The positioning function provided by the BeiDou system is incorporated into mass consumer products such as smartphones from Chinese brands Huawei, OPPO, VIVO, and Xiaomi, which already have Apps for their use. At the same time, the 5G+BeiDou combination is being developed for use in transport vehicles and unmanned sweepers, patrol robots and drones, etc., in a new drive to increase control based on new technologies.
Surveillance from space
Global navigation satellite systems, such as the U.S. GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, or Galileo (EU), function as beacons that emit signals from their orbits. Devices on the ground receive the signal from at least three satellites to determine their exact position.
BeiDou is a two-dimensional communication system. It emits and receives information from ground devices using the service to identify the user’s position and receive messages or data. It makes it potentially dangerous in the hands of a totalitarian regime.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology warned Taiwanese using Chinese-made cell phones that they could be sending information to Beijing via embedded malware. The public statement said:
“Because the Chinese BeiDou satellite positioning system has a two-way function of sending and receiving information and malware could be hidden in the cell phone’s navigation chip, operating system or applications, the use of BeiDou-enabled smartphones could face security risks.”
For 25 years, the Chinese regime has been working to implement its system. In 1996, during the Taiwan Strait crisis, China fired three missiles as a warning to Taiwan, but two of them were lost after losing the GPS tracking signal. China accused the U.S. of cutting the signal.
Today, BeiDou has 35 operating satellites, compared to 31 for GPS. The United States has long held the lead in this field, giving it an advantage in all its military operations. If China surpasses the U.S. in this technology, the national security implications would be very considerable.