Analysts claim they noticed a drop in shipping traffic towards the end of October as China was preparing to pass legislation regarding data privacy.
Shipping data companies are often able to track ships globally because they are equipped with an Automatic Identification System or AIS transceiver.
This system allows ships to send information — such as position, speed, course and name — to stations that are based along coastlines using high-frequency radio. The information can also be sent via satellite to ships that are out of range.
This is not the case in the second-largest country in the world, which is a key player in global trade. According to VesselsValue data, nearly 90% of the vessels that have sent signals from the country in the last three weeks has fallen,
Charlotte Cook, VesselsValue’s head trade analyst, stated that there is a significant industry-wide drop in the number of terrestrial AIS signals from China.
A new data law could make supply chain chaos worse
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined comment when we asked them about the issue. The State Council Information Office, acting as a press agency for the country’s Cabinet, didn’t immediately respond to a question about why shipping providers were not able to access data.
The law does not mention shipping data. According to Anastassis Turos, AIS network leader at Marine Traffic (a major ship-tracking data provider), Chinese data providers may withhold information as a precaution.
“Whenever we make a new law there is a period of time where everyone can check to see if it’s all okay. Touros said.
Others in the industry have more information about the law’s influence. Cook stated that her Chinese colleagues told her that some AIS transmitters were taken from stations based on Chinese coasts at the beginning of the month at the direction of national security officials. Only “qualified parties” were allowed to install the systems.
The data is not lost entirely. Satellites still have the ability to record signals from ships. Touros explained that satellite data is less reliable than ground-based information when ships are close to land.
“We need to have better pictures, a high-quality picture, so we need terrestrial stations,” he said.
According to Cook of VesselsValue, shipping companies rely on AIS data for vessel movement predictions, seasonal trends, and port efficiency. She stated that the absence of Chinese data could have a significant impact on visibility in China’s ocean supply chains. It is one of the largest importers of iron ore and coal in the world, and a major exporter of containers.
“As the Christmas season approaches, it will have an enormous impact on [supply chains]”And this is the most crucial element right now,” stated Georgios Hatzimanolis (media strategist for Marine Traffic). He believes that the loss of ship data from China will have a “great impact on the supply chain”, as companies could lose vital information about ship docking, loading and departing times.
He added that the global supply chains are already “under great stress”. “It doesn’t need to be made more difficult by any other factor.”
China’s desire for absolute control over all information and data within its borders is not surprising. President Xi Jinping continues reasserting the rule of the Communist Party in every aspect the economy and society.
Beijing’s top officials recently attempted to dispel concerns that China is closing the gap with the rest of the globe because it is putting national security first.
Wang Qishan (China’s Vice President), is regarded as a trusted ally to Xi and said that China would not become isolated from the world. Videotaped, he called for countries to maintain “stable and smooth” supply chains.
China’s policies during the coronavirus epidemic have often appeared to be contrary.
However, China’s actions in this year could come at a price if it goes too far to defend itself against perceived foreign interference.
This report was contributed by CNN’s Beijing bureau.