China Regards Starlink in Mongolia as Potential Military Threat, Evade Beijing’s Censorship
China has raised concerns over potential security threats posed by Mongolia adopting SpaceX’s Starlink. Mongolia’s Communications Regulatory Commission issued special licenses for SpaceX, on July 6, to take advantage of Elon Musk’s revolutionary satellite internet service. Mongolia will utilize Starlink’s low-orbit satellites to provide internet services throughout the country.
This move also raises questions about China’s ongoing censorship practices and how Starlink’s entrance into the region may challenge the Chinese government’s tight grip on information flow. Uchral Nyam-Osor, Mongolia’s Minister for Digital Development and Communications, said a network of fiber optic cables already provides wide-reaching access to high-speed internet across the country. “But Starlink’s technology will provide greater access to hard-to-reach areas of the country. Herders, farmers, businesses and miners living and working across our vast country will be able to access and use information from all over the world to improve their lives.”
But Chen Jiesen, a Shanghai-based analyst, says the satellite cannot provide its services to one area and sharply draw a line and stop providing them in another area. He believes the network capacity can easily spill over to nearby places. “Will it break our Great Firewall? If Starlink promises not to cross the line, it has already planned to provide services in Mongolia and Pakistan, neighbors in China’s Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang regions.”
Jiesen pointed out that if destabilizing social events happen in either neighbor, the related news may influence people in China through Starlink’s service. He explained countries that deploy Starlink’s autonomous services cannot opt to shutdown internet services in such situations. Other experts expressed similar concerns. They believe Starlink’s dual-use satellites could pose a threat to China’s information and national security
However, the Mongolian Ministry of Digital Development and Communications said it will not affect Mongolia’s relations with neighboring states. A spokesperson explained cross-border communications infrastructure and connectivity are governed by international treaties that have been mutually agreed upon by all countries. “These treaties serve as a foundation for fostering cooperation and understanding among the nations involved. As for China, it has established its own regulations and monitoring mechanisms concerning such technologies. Consumers in China will be governed by their own jurisdiction in accordance with their country’s laws and regulations.”
Mongolia reiterated that it maintains friendly bilateral relations with its neighbors and holds the utmost respect for the sovereignty of all nations.