China adopts new anti-espionage regulation, to name key institutes susceptible to foreign infiltration
Published: Apr 26, 2021 11:30 PM
Police officer Zhu Wenzhen (left) from the anti-telecom network fraud center in Urumqi,
Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, explains fraud detection skills to local residents on Monday, the 4th National Security Education Day. Photo: Xinhua

A police officer in Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, explains fraud detection skills to local residents on the 4th National Security Education Day. Photo: Xinhua

China rolled out a new anti-espionage regulation on Monday, which allows the national security authority to draw up lists of companies and organizations that are susceptible to foreign infiltration and require listed institutes to adopt security measures to prevent foreign infiltration.

Since foreign spies and intelligence agencies and other hostile forces have intensified their infiltration and intelligence theft against China through more diverse methods and in broader fields, the regulation clarifies "what, who and how" to guard against foreign espionage, officials from the national security authority explained on Monday.

"The regulation is of great significance to improve the legal system in protecting national security by specifying the responsibilities that companies and institutions must bear. It places emphasis on companies and institutions taking precautionary measures against foreign espionage," Li Wei, an expert on national security and anti-terrorism at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Monday.

According to the regulation, companies, organizations or social groups on the list shoulder the responsibility to roll out detailed measures against foreign espionage, including arranging their working staff to sign letters of commitment before taking up posts, reporting their activities related to national security, giving education to personnel ahead of their departures abroad, and interviewing personnel after their return to China.

A staff member in charge of foreign affairs at the headquarters of a central state-owned enterprise in Beijing, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Monday that the department had strengthened counterintelligence security work for all personnel traveling overseas since 2019 when Chinese leaders re-emphasized the importance of national security.

"Staff going on business trips to foreign countries, such as countries of the Five Eyes alliance - the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - have been told to strictly report their travel destinations, agendas, and meetings with foreign personnel, and they must get approval from their direct superiors before the applications are reviewed by the headquarters," he noted. 

The enterprises mentioned above have also strengthened pre-departure anti-spying education through means of seminars and short movies, where cases of foreign intelligence work are shown. 

In particular, electrical devices including mobile phones, laptops, and USB drives, which usually contain sensitive information, are key objects for intelligence agencies, and the person told the Global Times that the company has required staff involved in sensitive fields or those holding important files to leave their electrical devices at home and bring new ones abroad.

"For visits to countries that have been categorized as high-risk in terms of spying activities, we will evaluate if the trips are necessary and would advise against going if they are not essential," the staff member noted.

Any companies or institutions within the scope of national defense, diplomacy, economy, finance and high-tech industry should be considered as key fields in terms of possible foreign infiltration, according to Li. 

"Cases of Chinese people working in various industries who were wooed by money or intimidated to engage in espionage activities and became pawns of foreign spy intelligence agencies are numerous. Taking preventive measures and avoiding similar incidents that endanger national security is crucial to protecting national security," Li said.

The regulation did not specify which industries or companies will be on the list, but it said the list will be drawn up based on the level of confidentiality that the industry involves, the degree of foreign involvement, and whether there have been previous incidents that endangered national security.  

"Foreign espionage activities are everywhere, not something far away from our lives. I've seen a Chinese student, also a child of a Chinese official, who had to drop out of university in the US when she was targeted by foreign forces," a Beijing resident, also daughter of an official in East China's Jiangxi Province, revealed to the Global Times.  

She said she had received anti-espionage education in 2017 prior to her studies in the UK at the request of her father. 

"I watched some videos recording how foreign forces infiltrate the daily life of a person. Foreign espionage could be hidden in a normal daily conversation. Chinese students studying abroad, especially the children of government officials, are frequently targeted by foreign forces." 

China passed a law on counterespionage in 2014 and a law on national security in 2015, which outlined the necessity and importance of fighting foreign espionage, underlining individual responsibility in protecting national security and social stability against a bigger picture. 

On occasion of celebrating National Security Education implementation of China's counter-espionage law, villages, urban communities, schools and government departments in China will usually start a learning campaign that explains how to guard against the infiltration and influence of foreign anti-China forces. 

China's national security agency released a series of cases related to threats against China's political security during the sixth National Security Education Day on April 15. Among these cases was one involving a student surnamed Tian, who studied journalism at a university in North China's Hebei Province and became an "intern reporter" working for a mainstream Western media outlet. 

Tian engaged with more than 20 hostile foreign groups and more than a dozen officials of a Western country to receive direct instructions, which required Tian to provide "evidence" that could be used to stigmatize China.

To carry out anti-espionage missions and eliminate the hidden dangers of foreign espionage, the regulation also gives national security organs access to buildings, internal materials, electronical media kits, facilities, or computers and information systems of the companies involved. 

Those companies or organs that fail to implement their responsibilities, which results in negative outcomes, will face punishments accordingly, the regulation said.