Loveless Chinese troops banned from online dating

What will the lonely hearts of the People's Liberation Army do now?

Rigid restrictions on internet usage imposed this month on the 2.3 million-strong Chinese armed services are sure to cramp the already lackluster social lives of the predominantly young, male force.

Online dating was given the boot, along with blogs, personal websites and visits to internet cafes.

It may seem harsh and out of touch, particularly for troops posted in remote regions of China who have little contact with the civilian world. But military experts said restraints are necessary to avoid comprising security for a Chinese military that prizes secrecy.

"Some soldiers leaked military secrets when chatting online, for instance, giving away troop locations. Certainly a large amount of secrets were revealed this way and the regulation has just blocked the hole," said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

Plus, Ni said, "matchmaking for soldiers can be conducted in more serious ways, such as through introductions from families, friends, or their work units."

China is just the latest country to wrestle with the sticky issue of internet freedoms for its military, trying to find a balance between the demands of Web-savvy troops, who as civilians were used to sharing personal details online, and the need to maintain security.

After years of back and forth, the US Department of Defence now promotes use of social media by everyone from privates on the front line to generals at the Pentagon as a way of spreading its message.

For example, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Most other countries fall somewhere in between.

"Cyberspace has been a gray area. This is a tricky issue because it straddles both personal and professional space," said Ho Shu Huang, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"The military is a reflection of society and how it responds will be a result of that. So in more closed societies, it's easier for the military to say, 'Don't do anything. Don't talk online. That's that,'" he said.

Countries such as Britain and Israel allow troops to post personal information online, as long as it does not compromise military operations. The open approach has not always worked for Israel.

The Israeli military scrapped a raid on a West Bank village earlier this year after a soldier revealed the time and location of the operation on his Facebook page.

In 2008, a soldier attached to an elite Israeli intelligence unit was sentenced to 19 days in jail after uploading a photograph taken on his base to Facebook.