Recorded over 1,500 installs
Taiwanese university student Joseph Wen has just graduated with a degree in music, but for the past two years his personal obsession has been the mainland Chinese military.
Since 2020, Wen has consistently created an interactive online map for the public detailing over 1,500 People’s Liberation Army locations on the mainland and around the world.
The map attracted nearly a million views and surprised some military experts with its accuracy.
Wen said he developed an interest in the military through a friend when he was a high school student and started working on the project after reading an article in an armed forces magazine published on the continent.
The article contained a map of the island’s military deployments and his plan developed from there.
“I originally planned to locate PLA Air Force bases only because it’s quite easy to spot their tracks, but I eventually included other PLA units on the map,” a- he declared.
So far, it has identified 1,545 mainland Chinese military installations, including PLA missiles, rockets, radars, military, naval and air bases.
The locations of military academies, key government institutions, and important military-industrial facilities, such as the shipyards in Dalian, Jiangnan, and Huangpu are noted.
The map also shows PLA facilities in Xinjiang and Tibet as well as those outside the Chinese mainland, including several in Hong Kong and the support base in the East African state of Djibouti.
“Take the aircraft carrier Fujian or Type 003, for example. If you want to look up where it was launched, you can find it on the index showing the shipbuilder, Jiangnan Shipyard,” he said.
A facility of particular interest in Taiwan is a heliport base in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, just 250 km (155 miles) from Taipei.
The base was built for the PLA Air Brigade last year and raised fears the PLA could use it to launch a beheading operation against the island’s rulers.
To identify the legions of installations, Wen said he gathered information about the sites from public sources, including Wikipedia, Google Maps, academic and research articles, military fan groups and Internet discussion forums.
In one case, he checked the site of a PLA base after a user of Baidu – the mainland’s largest search engine – posted about a tank next to a military camp.
“Cross-referencing is very important. I have to check every detail and compare it with other sources before identifying the sites,” he said.
“Photos published by Chinese media, including CCTV, and military newspapers are another source of cross-references,” Wen said, adding that he checked the site of a rocket brigade using a photo released by the state broadcaster.
The base, equipped with DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can strike Taiwan and Guam, was located as far as Xinyang in the central province of Henan.
While creating the map, Wen admitted that he sometimes makes mistakes. He once mistook a prison for a military installation, but was corrected by other military enthusiasts the next day.
Wen said it was more difficult to identify army sites than to locate facilities of other PLA branches, as they tended to use various structures to conceal their facilities.
Still, the map is at least 80% accurate, according to Su Tzu-yun, a senior researcher at the island’s government-funded National Defense and Security Research Institute.
“Wen did a good job creating the map. Although it’s not 100% accurate, it allows people to get a clear idea of China’s military might and its growing threats to Taiwan,” Sun said.
The PLA has strengthened its military power in a wide range of areas and increased its military activities around Taiwan. Beijing regards Taiwan as its own territory and plans to one day reclaim the autonomous island, by force if necessary.
Wen said he hoped the map would raise their concerns about cross-strait security as well as regional security, political and military issues.
“I hope that through the map I created, Taiwanese can get an idea of the PLA and its military deployments,” he said.
He said his map was the work of an amateur and its accuracy could not be compared to those produced by security agencies. “Mine is just for public use,” he noted.
When asked if he saw a future in a Taiwanese intelligence agency, Wen said he preferred to build his career on his professional skills. “After all, music can soothe the heart and quiet the mind,” he said.