Beijing extends powers of state security agents under counter-espionage law
South China Morning Post, 7 December 2017
By Nectar Gan – China has issued new rules that extend the powers of its state security agents and elaborate on acts punishable under its counter-espionage law.
The legislation came into force in November 2014, the first in a series of new laws brought in under President Xi Jinping to guard against perceived threats to national security, covering areas from cyberspace to terrorism.
State security authorities already have broad powers under the law when carrying out counter-espionage duties, ranging from investigating any individual or organisation suspected of espionage to freezing or seizing any property linked to acts of espionage.
In the new rules detailing how the law should be implemented – issued by the State Council, China’s cabinet, on Wednesday – state security authorities are granted the power to bar foreign individuals from entering the country for a certain period if they are considered to be likely to engage in activities that might endanger national security. They can also stop individuals suspected of espionage from leaving China.
And the authorities can order that foreigners who have violated the counter-espionage law be deported.
Agents can also check the personal belongings of people who are not carrying identification and are suspected of posing a threat to national security under the new regulations.
The definitions of conduct punishable under the law have also been broadened under the new rules.
They include behaviour – such as using religion or cults to harm national security – that goes beyond standard definitions of espionage, namely the practice of obtaining information about a foreign government by spying.
The State Council considers “hostile groups” to include any groups that challenge the power of the Communist Party or the “socialist system”, according to the rules.
Foreign individuals or groups who fabricate or distort facts and issue information that harms China’s national security can be punished, as can people who meet individuals that harm national security.
The law requires organisations to educate their members on safeguarding state security, and mobilise them to prevent and stop espionage activities. The new rules state that a person in charge of an organisation that has failed to do this will be summoned by state security agents, and those in charge of the organisation will be notified.
Beijing has in recent years doubled down on efforts to involve the public in counter-espionage work as suspicions grow over “hostile foreign forces” – encouraging Chinese to report foreign spies through education campaigns and with the offer of cash rewards.
In October, pupils were made to watch a cartoon warning them to be alert for spies as part an online course launched by the state-run Chinese Society of Education to remind youngsters of their duty to safeguard the country.
Meanwhile in April, Beijing’s municipal government offered cash rewards of up to 500,000 yuan (US$75,560) for people reporting spies.
Reported by Nectar Gan for SCMP