China is mining Western social media to equip its military and police with information on foreign targets, according to a new report by The Washington Post. This revelation was made following the review of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts, and company filings.
This new report says that China maintains a nationwide network of data surveillance services that were developed over the past decade and are used domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online.
The software, which targets domestic Internet users and media, also collects data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook, and other Western social media.
The documents accessed by the Washington-based publication also show that Chinese agencies including state media, propaganda departments, police, military and cyber regulators are purchasing new or more sophisticated systems to gather data.
The report states that the Chinese state media software program mines Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics.
The report further reveals that a Beijing police intelligence program analyses Western content on Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also catalogues Uyghur language content abroad.
"Now we can better understand the underground network of anti-China personnel," said a Beijing-based analyst who works for a unit reporting to China's Central Propaganda Department.
The unit was once tasked with producing a data report on how negative content relating to Beijing's senior leadership is spread on Twitter, including profiles of individual academics, politicians, and journalists, according to the report.
"They are now reorienting part of that effort outward, and I think that's frankly terrifying, looking at the sheer numbers and sheer scale that this has taken inside China," said Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, as quoted by The Washington Post.
She added: "It really shows that they now feel it's their responsibility to defend China overseas and fight the public opinion war overseas."