China’s national security ministry – the country’s top anti-spy agency – has warned travellers against taking photos or videos at civil-military airports in the country, following a series of recent incidents. 

In a statement on Chinese social media, the agency warns of security risks if passengers ignore rules mandating that window shades remain closed at such airports. These include possible leaks of sensitive military information on the internet. 

Yanji airport

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yanji airport is one of several civil-military airports in China

Civil-military airports make up about one-third of China’s airports, according to ministry data. It adds: “Since civil-military airports are often equipped with important military equipment and undertake daily training tasks, civil aviation passengers should abide by relevant regulations and not take photos of sensitive military areas and military equipment without authorisation.”

The national security ministry cites two recent incidents where passengers were caught taking unauthorised photos at dual-use airports in the country.

The first involved a foreign national who used their phone to take pictures of a civil-military airport from his aircraft. The unidentified traveller, who was reportedly travelling from the eastern Chinese city of Yiwu to Beijing, was caught after a fellow passenger reported his behaviour. 

The second incident which happened “not long ago” saw a passenger called Liu placing his phone in between the window shade and aircraft window, and allegedly recorded the “facilities, buildings and military aircraft” around the airport, which was not named by the authorities. 

According to the ministry, Liu had taken those pictures and videos “intending to post it on his circle of friends to show off”, and was consequently sentenced to seven days’ “administrative detention”. 

The incident caused the flight to be delayed until security agencies were satisfied that “the potential leakage risks had been eliminated in accordance with the law”. 

The national security ministry adds: “Maintaining national security is the responsibility and obligation of every citizen. Taking photos of military facilities and equipment without permission is a serious threat to national security. Every passenger has the responsibility and obligation to cooperate with the security and confidentiality of civil-military airports.” 

The ministry’s stern warning on following the rules – which it stresses are “common practice” in other civil-military airports around the world – comes amid growing geopolitical tensions, which have heightened fears of military intelligence being leaked. 

In late 2021, a Chinese man and defence enthusiast was thrown into jail after he used a drone equipped with high-definition cameras to “illegally photograph a new type of warship in order to find a good topic for conversation”.