China’s Area 51


Interaction Space begins its SuperModels series.

Worlds within a world of varied scales and formats, a collection of pocket-sized environments will be reviewed, starting with China’s Area 51 topographic 1:500 model of a vast portion of its neighbour country. Two press clips are included to unveil its purpose. (J.E.)

“ The discovery of what is considered a military establishment in China’s Northern plains by a Google Earth user from Germany has kicked up a storm on the Net’s strategic forums. Here’s why: The establishment, snapped from Google’s free satellite imagery software, houses a startlingly accurate scale model of a highly sensitive stretch of the disputed Sino-Indian border.

A careful study of the model, located at a large military complex in China’s Huangyangtan province, likely used for training and familiarisation of troops, helicopters and infantry vehicles, shows that it is built to scale based on a stretch 2,400 km away along the Aksai Chin area bordering Ladakh, part of the stretch through which invading Chinese forces entered in the 1962 war.
The facility, full with uncharacteristic and man-made snow peaks, glacial lakes and snow rifts—ironically in the middle of an arid plain—is flanked by a large military depot with buildings and at least a hundred military trucks.
The Army did not confirm that it was aware of the facility, but officially told The Indian Express, “Militaries are always known to simulate potential conflict zones as a standard practice. There is absolute peace and tranquility on the border with China, a disputed border that the two governments are resolving through peaceful dialogue. It is nothing alarming, these are standard training methodologies.”
Off the record, though, an officer currently with the Quarter Master General branch, but who has served along the border with Aksai Chin, said, “We knew that they had some facilities for this purpose but the scale and detail is something new to us.”

The facility, full with uncharacteristic and man-made snow peaks, glacial lakes and snow rifts—ironically in the middle of an arid plain—is flanked by a large military depot with buildings and at least a hundred military trucks.

The sense is that economic development near the border and a quiet, but progressive peace dialogue to end the border dispute notwithstanding, the PLA is keeping its forces well in touch with potential conflict zones— especially Aksai Chin, strategically important to Beijing since it houses crucial road heads and Demchok, one of the principally disputed zones. The image could be anything between six months and two years old, proving that training on disputed terrain is still very much part of the PLA’s war doctrine”.
Shiv Aroor. NEW DELHI, AUGUST 4, Sat Aug 05 2006, 00:00 hrs. Indian Express Journal
900×700 meters 1:500 model at China’s Area 51
Model and copy

“The scale is exactly 500:1.

Last week a reader posted a link on our own MashUp blog that led to a Chinese site – – where in late July a reader posted a photo showing men in blue overalls on what looks to be another large-scale terrain model.

The caption does not clearly state where or when the photo was taken but it is watermarked “Xinhua” – the New China News Agency, China’s state-run new agency. Although the land on which the model is based is Chinese territory, it is also claimed by India. The two sides fought a brief war over the area in 1962.

Covering an area the size of Switzerland, the Aksai Chin region is a high altitude desert plateau. It contains a strategically important highway 219 that connects the far north-western province of Xinjiang with Tibet.

The scale is exactly 500:1

When the Beijing correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age contacted local officials last month, she was told that the area was a tank training facility that had been there for seven or eight years. But this theory is dismissed by’s Tim Brown, who said that the scale of the model was just too small. Moreover, as the actual land that the model represents is on a plateau 5000 metres above sea level, it would make tank warfare difficult if not impossible.

The size of the model also means that it is unsuitable for training pilots – unless they use it as a walk-through terrain visualisation training exercise. All of which lead Brown to speculate that the model is all about what he calls “perception management”.

“It could be that it’s just there as a morale builder, ” he said”.

Stephen Hutcheon. August 14, 2006. The Sydney Morning Herald

Model’s possible close up

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