Starting from Monday, Beijing citizens who provide useful information on spying are eligible for a cash reward of up to 500,000 yuan ($72,460), according to a policy issued by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security. But the informants will be punished if they deliberately slander others.
It's an obligation of citizens to report illegal and criminal acts, including spying, to the authorities. All countries consider such participation by citizens as a positive factor in social governance. In China, corruption tipoffs have received the most attention which led to the filing of many major corruption cases. Tipoffs from the public have played a vital role in clearing up many criminal cases as well.
In the past, the Chinese public lived a simple life, and it was easy to spot the act of spying. But the situation is quite different now, because of extensive and diverse interactions between the Chinese people and foreigners. The methods of spying have also changed a lot. Sometimes, a Chinese may be trapped by a foreign spy without even knowing it. Some foreigners spy on China under the guise of engaging in communication and doing business in China. For ordinary people, it is not easy to spot them.
China's education on national security has been relatively limited. TV programs on legal affairs rarely touch on spy cases. There are few films and TV series themed on contemporary spy stories, either.
In recent years, some foreign spies or locals who illegally provided information to overseas agencies were arrested.
But many of these cases were labeled as human rights violation by foreign public opinion and China was blamed for "cracking down on foreign institutes in China" or "quashing freedom of speech." These cases failed to educate the public about threats to national security.
Many Chinese people are not conscious about the need to guard themselves against spying. Those working in sensitive institutions and regions are not always alert. People also easily ignore the open nature of the Internet and are not aware of the danger of leaking information in cyberspace.
Following the announcement of the reward policy, some people expressed disagreement on the Internet, saying such a policy of encouraging the public to report to the authorities is reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution era. Those people need to be reminded that compared with the PRISM program of the US, mobilizing the public is a more reliable method.
The reward policy has become a topic of hot debate, which indicates the seriousness of the threats from spies. China has become a key target of the global intelligence networks, and the whole Chinese society needs to be on guard.