Escalation / Destabilization Conflict

Is China expanding its infrastructure to keep an eye on US activities in Iran?

Vasily Kashin
Feb 7, 2013 17:58 Moscow Time

Иран Китай флаг

© Collage “The Voice of Russia”

According to the Western media, Iran has signed an agreement with China on cooperation in creating systems of electronic reconnaissance. Such agreements are top secret and any mention of them in open press, in all probability, is the result of a purposeful news leak on the part of one of the Western special services, believes Vasily Kashin, expert of the Center for analysis of strategies and technologies.

There is data that indicates that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (VEVAK) along with the state company Iran Electronic Industries, have signed an agreement on cooperation in creating systems of electronic reconnaissance with the 12th bureau of the PLA’s 3rd General Staff Department. According to reports, the original source of which was the Canadian radio, the Chinese will teach the Iranians to conduct tapping and in the future this cooperation is likely to expand.

The mass media do not cite other details of the Iran-China agreement. It is only clear that, according to Western suspicions, there is a kind of activity in China and Iran in the areas regarding electronic intelligence.

The PLA’s 3rd GSD Department, with its headquarters in the Beijing district of Haidian, is the functional analogue of the American National Security Agency. In addition to traditional radio interception and the tapping of telephone calls, cyber espionage is also included in its functions.

Data about the structure of the Department available in open sources is contradictory and incomplete. Western studies of the structure of the 3rd Department assert that its 12th Bureau (military unit 61486), with headquarters in Shanghai, is responsible for the control of the Chinese radio-electronic reconnaissance satellites and has several bases in different cities throughout China. This agency is directly subordinate to the headquarters of the 3rd Department and it hardly has the authority to sign international agreements. At the same time it is not directly responsible for the development of satellites. Chinese reconnaissance satellites are designed and manufactured by the units of the CASC rocket and space concern. Therefore, all the reported details should not be taken too seriously, expert from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Vasily Kashin believes. The issue at hand, most likely, is that the West has suspicions that China shares the data of its reconnaissance satellites with Iran and perhaps is helping Iran to create such systems. They decided to let China know about these suspicions through the news leak in the press, hoping to prevent further development of this cooperation.

In its turn, China can be interested in using Iranian territory for electronic reconnaissance. The region around Iran is known for having the greatest concentration of US troops in the world. It is important that these troops are involved in actual combat operations. The use of the Iranian territory by the 3rd Department will give the PLA invaluable knowledge about both technical aspects of the activities of the US armed forces and the latest changes in their tactics. And limited technical assistance to Iran in response for this would only look natural.

According to some American publications, China already acts similarly in Cuba. It is common belief that the Chinese electronic reconnaissance station appeared there shortly after the Russians had left their base near Lourdes by the decision of President Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s. The transformation of China into a superpower and its widening global interests make the continued expansion of the 3rd Department’s overseas bases inevitable, Russian expert on defense issues Vasily Kashin is sure.