In Chinese waters in October there were over 15 million transponders turned on every day. Since the beginning of November, the signals of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) have plummeted to just over a million. What happened
The answer appears to be contained in a report by the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on November 1: “The intelligence extracted from these data endangers China’s economic security and the damage cannot be ignored.”
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of ​​the International Maritime Organization provides that passenger ships, regardless of their size, and all ships other than passenger ships with a gross tonnage equal to or greater than 300 tons, operating on international routes and which call at a port of a Member State and must be equipped with an Ais.
Initially developed to avoid collisions and aid disaster efforts, AIS is now a tool to monitor the state of global supply chains and, for governments, to track activity in ports. Today, the system appears to be one of the first victims of the new Chinese privacy law, effective November 1, which requires companies that process data to obtain government approval before moving them out of Chinese territory.
Quoted by the Financial Times, Anastassis Touros, head of MarineTraffic’s AIS team, said he was convinced that AIS data does not represent a risk to national security (no one, apart from China, defines them as such) and stressed that military ships often hide their position from trackers . According to the expert, this information darkness could cause new congestion in the ports of the second economy in the world, which is home to six of the ten busiest container ports in the world, already hit by bad weather and a pandemic. All this within a few weeks of Christmas. According to expert Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chinese officials may have other ways to track ships. Charlotte CookVesselsValue’s chief commercial analyst told CNN Business that colleagues in China told her that some transponders were removed from stations along China’s coast earlier this month at the behest of national security authorities. The only systems allowed to remain had to be installed by “qualified parties”.
One could rely on satellites. But they are not enough: Touros, this time quoted by the US broadcaster, explained that when a ship is close to the shore the information thus collected is not as good as that which can be collected ashore.
As CNN points out, China’s willingness to put absolute control over data and information “is not surprising, given that President Xi Jinpingit continues to reaffirm the dominance of the ruling Communist Party in every aspect of the economy and society ”, as well as pushing the Made in China 2025 plan for economic self-sufficiency to face external threats such as US sanctions on emerging technologies.
But there is another hypothesis: that as happened in the case of Peng Shuai , the tennis player who accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoliof sexual assault, the Chinese government has decided to turn off the light on an uncomfortable issue. The problems of global supply chains risk, in fact, fueling bad publicity for the party-state. Better, therefore, the dark. With one problem: in recent times, Beijing’s lack of transparency is increasingly suspicious at the international level. The question of the origin of Covid-19 is proof of it.

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