Australia is playing a role in helping China develop its rival global positioning system that will be used for guiding missiles and other military technology, according to a leading expert.
New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady — who says she has faced a campaign of harassment and intimidation for her research on the Chinese Communist Party — said the “BeiDou” alternative to the American-controlled GPS carries significant benefits for the Chinese military.
A tracking station in Perth has been a key factor in the global advance of the BeiDou satellite navigation system, Professor Brady said, with the Western Australian infrastructure the first to be established in the critical Pacific region.
“Australia is playing a small part in helping China to get a GPS system as effective as the US system,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“China is aiming to have a better one than the US has by 2020, and so is Russia. They need ground stations to co-ordinate their satellites and they need them in the Pacific. Their first ground station in the Pacific region was built in Perth.”
She warned “the lines are being redrawn but Australia still has the old line”.
Professor Brady, from the University of Canterbury, has published influential research on the activities of the Chinese Communist Party. Since late 2017, her office has been broken into twice, her home once, and her car has been tampered with.
Giving evidence before the Australian Parliament’s intelligence and security committee last year, she said she was facing Beijing’s intimidation tactics because of her work.
The data transmitted across satellite navigation systems is used for global telecommunications, transport and other industries. It is also critical for modern warfare. Alongside GPS and BeiDou, the other operating satellite navigation systems are Europe’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS.
China’s development of BeiDou started as an effort to become more technologically independent. China is concerned about reliance on American systems that could leave it vulnerable in the event of a conflict.
The facility in Perth, one of few in the southern hemisphere, has improved the accuracy of BeiDou. China has also established key base stations in Australia’s Antarctic Territory, significantly improving the system’s capability.
A 2017 United States congressional report concluded that the use for missile strikes was a major objective for China and would allow its military to “switch to BeiDou to guide a missile to its target if GPS were denied, and China would also be able to attack an adversary’s access to GPS without disrupting its own capabilities”.
BeiDou is already in use in China and the region, deployed for many civilian and commercial applications and is likely being integrated into military systems.
While 2020 has been slated as the timeframe for BeiDou’s global launch, China announced at the end of 2018 that the system was now global.
“This signifies that [BeiDou] has officially entered the global era as [it] expands from a regional system to a global navigation system,” Ran Chengqi, director general of the China Satellite Navigation Office, said in late December.
“The BeiDou system has become one of the great achievements in China’s 40 years of reform,” Chinese President Xi Xinping said in a letter to a United Nations committee on satellite navigation in November last year.