BEIJING • A newspaper linked to China's military has warned of a possible act of espionage after new photos of the country's first indigenous aircraft carrier went viral online.
The high-definition images of the yet-to-be-named aircraft carrier were published by Japan's Kyodo news agency on Dec 10, and have since gone viral online in China, reported Caixin news website.
The images were apparently shot with a high-definition camera from a distance, reported Chinese media.
China last December confirmed it was building an aircraft carrier but its launch date has not been announced. Its aircraft carrier programme is a state secret.
In a commentary on Wednesday, China Defence News, which is published by the People's Liberation Army, said structural details of the carrier's hull and the positions of built-in weapons such as cannons were clearly visible in the photos.
The paper said the authorities need to strengthen oversight and awareness in the intelligence community and even recruit amateur defence enthusiasts to defend national security. It warned that emerging technologies such as cloud computing and drones pose a threat to national security.
When asked about the latest pictures of the still-under-construction aircraft carrier, Mr Yang Yujun, a Defence Ministry spokesman, urged foreign reporters to respect Chinese laws. He did not elaborate, according to Reuters.
Kyodo did not say how it obtained the photos. This is not the first time information linked to the first built-in-China carrier has been leaked. Images of the carrier were published online in October last year.
Interest in China's aircraft carrier programme has spiked after its first carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, sailed to the western Pacific for the first time last weekend. Liaoning then travelled to the disputed waters of South China Sea.
The Kyodo report said the indigenous aircraft carrier is expected to be launched in early 2017, three years earlier than what was widely reported in Chinese media.
The carrier, referred to as "CV-17" in defence websites, is the first to be wholly built in China and is said to be modelled on the Liaoning. Some commentators say "Shandong" is a possible name.
"What China should really be alert about is Japan's possible use of hacking to steal China's military secrets or resorting to bribing Chinese nationals to obtain classified information," said Mr Song Zhongping, a military commentator with the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.
Last week, a court in Hainan said it had jailed a 24-year-old man for five years for spying. The man had received an undisclosed sum from an unidentified foreign spy agency to take photographs of warships at Chinese ports, The Paper reported, citing the Hainan court.