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Illegal meteorological stations steal data
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An illegal foreign meteorological survey announced by the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) on November 16 has once again drawn public attention to rising cases of foreign illegal meteorological stations established in China. This is the fourth of its kind since August of this year.

The latest case occurred in west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. On September 25, 2006, the meteorological bureau of Yengisar County in Kashi detected that a branch of Xinjiang Pacific Agricultural Resource Development Corporation - an American-funded company - had set up automatic meteorological monitors on its contracted farm. This unapproved observation had started one year before.

According to germane clauses in the Meteorological Law and Measures for the Administration of Foreign-related Meteorological Sounding and Information, Kashi meteorological authorities conducted an on the spot investigation on August 3, 2007. The company was later fined 10,000 yuan (about US$1,352) and all the illegally acquired data and monitoring equipment were confiscated.

The company's other illegal monitoring station in Hetian, Xinjiang was also removed on July 31, 2007 and the company was fined another 10,000 yuan.

"There have been more than 20 cases of foreign illegal meteorological surveys since 2000," Li Lijun, deputy director of the regulation office under the policy and regulation department of the CMA, told the International Herald Leader.

According to Li, China possesses abundant meteorological phenomena varying from plateau climate to urban heat island effect. That is why so many foreigners are interested in China's meteorological information.

However, not all meteorological information is accessible. "Information such as ordinary weather forecasts and data exchanged with other countries is open to all. But there are rules regarding the classification of information which cannot be revealed," stressed Li, adding that it is an international practice to protect such information from draining abroad.

Inappropriate cooperation impairs national interests

At an international conference held in Hong Kong last May, some foreign scholars used China's meteorological data to buttress their opinions in their published theses. They attacked China's environmental problems based on the information and data claimed to have been acquired via cooperative programs with China's universities.

As an attendee of the conference, Zhou Lingxi, an expert on greenhouse gases and also a research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, noticed that some foreign scholars were misled by that information. They amplified China's environmental problems to draw more attention to their research, heedless to the fact that data and information collected in polluted areas doesn't represent the norm in China.

The investigation launched by China's meteorological authorities indicated that those scholars had also violated agreements to publish unilaterally and their survey data and monitoring operations were conducted without official approval.

Foreign institutions or individuals have established monitoring stations in China to obtain primary meteorological data. The interlinked stations could knit an information web that may threaten national security.

In 2005, a woman of Chinese origin set up 39 unauthorized monitoring stations in Shanghai. The Japanese government subsidized her. She collected meteorological data covering humidity and temperature from April to August 2005. The monitoring area covered most parts of Shanghai, including some sensitive military units.

On January 16, 2007, the meteorological bureau of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan Province received a report that an illegal monitoring station had been established near the Mengsong Village under its jurisdiction.

An investigation determined that the monitoring station belonged to a research program co-launched by the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the East West Center of the University of Hawaii. The program started in 2004 and planned to do research on land use and biodiversity amid climate change. Xishuangbanna is home to a wide variety of animals and plants and conducting a research program there could provide constructive suggestions for the development of local agricultural and environmental protection.

However, the unauthorized monitoring has violated Measures for the Administration of Foreign-related Meteorological Sounding and Information that took effect in the beginning of this year.

"We must abide by the regulations," said Qian Jie, the leading Chinese researcher. "The illegal facilities have been removed and all the data has been confiscated."

Thanks to its special geographical location and various meteorological resources, Yunnan has always been of interest to many foreign institutes. Chinese researchers should bear in mind the political issues behind international cooperation, stressed by a regulation and policy official from the Yunan Meteorological Bureau. Research programs launched near military bases or borders will probably exert pressure on national security and environmental exchange.

Meteorological authorities must approve all foreign-related meteorological monitoring activities. Regulations stipulate the number of monitoring stations, their distance apart from each other, monitoring times and how information may be used, stressed the official.

Observe the regulations during research activities

The Meteorological Law and Measures for the Administration of Foreign-related Meteorological Sounding and Information went into effect in 2000 and 2007 respectively. The law provides a list of penalty guidelines for illegal surveying.

"Some Chinese researchers are not familiar with the rules," noted Li Lijun. "Some even hadn't heard about it until we contacted them regarding an investigation. It's necessary to publicize our rules among researchers and scholars."

In the Shanghai case mentioned above, the woman claimed she was not aware of the rules.

In early September of this year, a Norwegian researcher, in cooperation with Tibet University, planned to conduct solar ultraviolet research in Tibet. But after being informed of China's meteorological regulations he agreed to follow them.

Illegal survey and Olympics

With the approaching of Beijing Olympics, foreign illegal meteorological surveys have emerged in several Olympic cities. Three cases involving the USA, the UK and Australia have been reported since last year. Foreign violators installed illegal monitoring equipments under the auspices of pre-match preparation.

In order to curb these kinds of violations, the CMA has issued a notice in August of this year, stressing that local meteorological authorities in Olympic cities should strengthen their supervision of Olympic venues and crack down on illegal meteorological surveying.

( by Huang Shan December 8, 2007)

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