Multiple regions across China reinforce education on Counter-Espionage Law
Published: Aug 10, 2023 08:05 PM
A teacher at a middle School in Hohhot, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, teaches students on detecting spying activities on April 12, 2023. Photo: IC

A teacher at a middle School in Hohhot, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, teaches students on detecting spying activities on April 12, 2023. Photo: IC

From urban communities to villages in remote areas in China, officials have been working on frontline to fortify national security education to the public, in order to improve public awareness and engagement. Such public awareness campaigns have been enhanced after the newly revised Counter-Espionage Law came into effect on July 1.

"It is a fundamental and long-term strategy for national security to strengthen public awareness over the issue," according to one official from China's Ministry of State Security (MSS). Over recent years, from officials at all levels to individuals in the theoretical fields, from students to the public, national security literacy and awareness has been enhanced at all levels, according to an article published on MSS' official WeChat account on Wednesday.

Chinese lawmakers voted to adopt a revised Counter-Espionage Law in April, which came into effect on July 1, one of the country's number of measures to safeguard national security in the face of an increasingly complex counter-espionage situation. 

The MSS said in its first article published on its official WeChat account on August 1 that counter-espionage work requires the mobilization of all sections of society. The ministry on August 4 stressed that it is a common international practice to prevent and combat espionage activities and safeguard national security through legislation in response to individual foreign media's misinterpretation of the revised Counter-Espionage Law.

Strengthened education  

Multiple regions across the country have reinforced education on Counter-Espionage Law in different forms including regular national security theory education and other vivid ways to let the public understand the importance on counter-espionage. 

Shanghai's Changfeng community released an article on August 7 reminding residents to be alert to espionage activities around them and not to fall into hidden traps. It also listed a few abnormal circumstances, for instance, residents should be alert that if a person calls, texts messages or takes pictures frequently, or uses anonymous means of communication, such as encryption software, or asks for personal information such as living address and bank accounts. 

Identifying espionage activities requires a combination of circumstances, including the person's behavior, speech, thoughts, motives as well as background. Members of the public should actively participate in counter-espionage activities, and immediately call 12339 to report to the relevant departments if suspected activities are detected, a Shanghai local community notice explained.

In Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, an officer who had participated in a number of education campaign carried out last week, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "during the [education] process, I also realized how important it is to educate the public in preventing espionage activities." 

"Many people are still unaware of the danger of espionage activities, they all feel spies are far away from them," the officer said, who requested anonymity because of sensitivity of the matter. He said the education campaign in villages attracted more people than they previously expected. "They listened intently, and asked us a lot of questions about preventing spies and more leaflets." 

Education campaigns normally include the basic items of the revised law and teach the residents how to identify the suspected espionage activities, especially being alert over those questions related to terrain, military bases, as well as reminding residents to be cautious over making friends online, according to the officer. 

Some other regions including Beijing, East China's Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have also conducted similar education campaigns to build a strong society wide defense against espionage.

Wang Hong, the director of communication department at Guangning subdistrict government in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "national security awareness" is a major focus of their work.

"We played an educational video released by the National Administration of State Secrets Protection during the event held in April to inform people that some seemingly ordinary actions and photos may unintentionally leak state secrets. Therefore, we should always be vigilant to our daily behavior," Wang said. More than 30 people, including residents, city officers, and community workers participated in the event.

The subdistrict regards the campaign on confidentiality regulations to the general public as an important task, and deeply promotes the concept, awareness, common sense, and skills of safeguarding national secrets in the new era, Wang said. Some communities in the subdistrict also invited lawyers to educate the public about relevant laws.

From villages in the deep desert to herdsmen tents in remote border areas, local national security authorities in Xinjiang have been carried out education activities for decades. In Xinhe county, a local court held an education activity on July 20 to educate local merchants, distribute leaflets, and conduct on-site legal consultation.

Building on the rule of law 

Heightened education campaign at various levels of government across China aimed at "rooting the overall national security outlook in people's minds", and to "further build the rule of law in China", Li Wei, an expert on national security at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The revised Counter-Espionage Law reflects the latest circumstances China is currently facing domestically and internationally, said experts.

"On one hand, some foreign countries, led by the West, are imposing sanctions and pressure on China's technological sectors, especially in the semiconductor and chip industries. On the other hand, they are also intensifying their espionage activities by various means to track China's military and technological secrets," Li said. 

Against this backdrop, relying solely on specialized national counter-espionage agencies is no longer sufficient to fully address the overwhelming external pressures and increasingly complex challenges. Every citizen should play a role in national security, remain vigilant, raise awareness, and know how to scientifically respond, according to Li.

The revised Counter-Espionage Law refines the definition of espionage, specifying acts such as carrying out cyber-attacks against state organs, confidential organs or crucial information infrastructure as acts of espionage.

The state security bureau in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, and other authorities carried out a joint enforcement action against Capvision's Suzhou branch, urging it to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations for counter-espionage in May this year.

Li believes that the revised law particularly heightened awareness over domestic espionage activities, calling for more caution over selling data to suspicious agents.

The revised law has clearly stipulated the strict restrictions and regulations governing state organs' counter-espionage work in terms of four aspects including defining the approval authority for law enforcement powers and the channels for reporting, the MSS said on Monday.

This further restricts the powers of national security agencies to prevent abuse of power, and citizens have the right to report such abuses and misconducts, said Li.