Unrevealed moments behind forefront battles of national security officers in safeguarding China’s borders
Heroes in the shadows
Published: Jan 09, 2024 08:48 PM
The National Gate in Manzhouli, Northeast China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

The National Gate in Manzhouli, Northeast China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Photo: Hu Yuwei/Global Times

"National security is the foundation of national rejuvenation. In adhering to the overall concept of national security, we resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, safety, and development interests." On August 1, 2023, the official WeChat account of China's Ministry of State Security made its debut with these powerful words, becoming an important window, through which the whole society could gain an understanding of the work conducted by national security agencies.

China's national security agencies are responsible for counter-espionage work, while also undertaking functions such as safeguarding political agency and overseas security. The national security agencies have always been shrouded in mystery, representing a covert front line with special status and missions. They have played an important role in defending the state power, maintaining social harmony and stability, and protecting people's lives and property.

To mark the fourth Chinese People's Police Day which falls on January 10, Global Times reporters went to two border towns in North and South China - Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, to conduct in-depth interviews with local national security officers, who faithfully practice the pledge of dedicated service to the people.

Head-to-head frontline battles

Manzhouli is covered in white snow amid the howling wind in December 2023. The city stands near the boundary marker of the China-Mongolia-Russia tri-border, and a borderline that stretches over 1,000 kilometers. Officers from the national security bureau of Manzhouli told the Global Times that this special geographical location has always made the city an important channel and springboard for hostile forces to infiltrate and sabotage the country. The continued sagas of silent struggles of infiltration and counter-infiltration, subversion and counter-subversion, and division and counter-division play out here on a regular basis.

During her first mission, Li Yue (pseudonym), a Generation-Z officer from the national security bureau in Manzhouli, experienced the acuteness and complexity of these struggles.

Similar to a plot straight out of a film, Li Yue had to disguise herself as a waitress in a restaurant to get closer to a suspect, in order to coordinate with her colleagues' next move.

"In the few steps that it took for me to come face to face with him, I tried to maintain my cool, not allowing myself to show any hint of nervousness. Trained professionals quickly notice such things, so I had to meet his gaze with a placid one," Li Yue recalled. 

Like any ordinary waitress, she greeted the suspect with a smile, led him to his seat, offered him a glass of water, took his order, and also attended to the rest of the diners. "My colleagues and I did a lot of work beforehand, making contingency plans for various possible eventualities. The suspect would never know that a covert operation was fully underway." 

Shortly after this mission, Li Yue changed her online handle to "actor." Exquisite "acting" skills were just some of the many skills and qualities possessed by the national security officers. The success of each operation relies on meticulous planning, creative thinking, strong psychological resilience, and unwavering courage.

Thousands of miles away on the Southwest China's border region, Xishuangbanna national security bureau officers guard the region with Laos and Myanmar, which stretches for nearly a thousand kilometers. Their main task is to prevent foreign spies and intelligence personnel from infiltrating or fleeing from China. 

In 2015, the Xishuangbanna bureau successfully cracked down on an espionage case that was remotely plotted by a foreign intelligence agency. In August of that year, the bureau received a tip from higher-level authorities that a man surnamed Li, who used to work in an important governmental department, had been subverted and recruited as a spy by a foreign intelligence agency while studying abroad. Signs showed that Li was about to escape the country recently, very possibly via Xishuangbanna.

After receiving the arrest order, the officers of the Xishuangbanna bureau carefully analyzed Li's possible escape routes, mobilized all forces to set up checkpoints and surveillance, and finally tracked him down.

Song Bin (pseudonym), a Xishuangbanna bureau official who participated in the operation to arrest Li, told the Global Times that "during the operation, we found that Li was using various anti-surveillance methods to evade arrest. Various signs indicated that there were personnel from foreign spy intelligence agencies behind him [who had taught him how to evade police detection]." 

On the sixth day of the arrest operation, Li arrived at an exit channel on the Xishuangbanna border. National security officials from the Xishuangbanna bureau, who were disguised as boat operators, waited at the exit channel and noticed that Li matched the photo in the arrest warrant and made their approach. 

"We asked to see his identity (ID) card if he wanted to take our boat to go abroad. He provided us with a fake ID card, which showed his registered place of residence as Southwest China's Sichuan," Song said. 

The Xishuangbanna bureau police would not be able to arrest Li if they could not confirm his identity, otherwise it would alert the target and the operation would fail. At this critical moment, one of the officials, who was familiar with various dialects in the southwest, had a brilliant idea: Now that Li had pretended to be a Sichuan native, why not converse with him in the Sichuan dialect? 

This sudden "test" caught Li off-guard, and his expression changed drastically, revealing his guilt. The Xishuangbanna bureau officials then confirmed his identity as the fleeing suspect. The officers also immediately revealed their identities before taking Li into custody while he pleaded not to be arrested.

Trucks pass through the Mohan Port on China's border with Laos in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Photo: Leng Shumei/Global Times

Trucks pass through the Mohan Port on China's border with Laos in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Photo: Leng Shumei/Global Times

Silent, dangerous mission

In the process of safeguarding national security, national security officials have also demonstrated their great spirit of dedication and sacrifice.

"We often have to face unexpected dangers, and in some critical moments, we can only put our lives on the line," an official from the Xishuangbanna bureau surnamed Yan told the Global Times. 

Yan recounted an instance in which a person suspected of engaging in activities that endangered national security fled to Xishuangbanna with the intention of leaving the country. During the arrest operation, while not sure of whether the suspect was armed, Yan and several other Xishuangbanna bureau officials decisively charged forward. 

"Although he was alone, he had received relevant military training and had a mindset of fighting to the death. At that critical moment, we didn't have time to think; we could only rush forward and firmly restrain him. Fortunately, his luggage only contained cash and some forged documents," Yan said.

Being able to endure hard work and loneliness is how many national security officers evaluate their own work. Jiang Dingbian (pseudonym), an officer from the national security bureau in Manzhouli, has devoted himself to security operations for nearly 30 years. He told the Global Times that those officers have to make long-term contingency preparations for every case. "It may take three to five years, or even more than a decade, to track down just one lead." 

The national security bureau in Manzhouli once arrested a target that had been under surveillance for years. Jiang spent three years in analyzing thousands of pieces of information before finally discovering evidence of the target's involvement in other illegal activities.

In order to promptly identify all possible risks, the national security bureau in Manzhouli has set up a room that is less than 20 square meters, where national security officers work in shifts around the clock. For a long time, this small space had no air conditioning and the water supply would occasionally be cut off. In the summer, the national security officers would often be drenched in sweat, while in the winter, they had to endure the freezing cold wind constantly seeping in through the cracks in the window at minus 30 C. 

"Some cases have made no progress after years of effort, which made me wonder whether it was worth persisting. But we cannot overlook any potential national security risks and threats. This is our original intention and our duty," Li Yue said.

Whole-society defense line 

National security is the common aspiration and fundamental interest of all ethnic groups in the country. Safeguarding national security is also the shared responsibility of all ethnic groups in the country.

Manzhouli national security bureau officer Li Bin (pseudonym) said that since the first National Security Education Day on April 15, 2016, the whole society has become more actively involved in various efforts to safeguard national security. 

On one hand, the government, institutions, enterprises, and individuals actively cooperate with national security work and provide support. On the other hand, the whole society has formed an atmosphere of responsibility for national security and the public actively reports suspicious clues, providing strong support to the work of national security agencies.

Li Bin revealed that the national security bureau of Manzhouli once received a report from a retired person, who said to have found a telephone line of a classified unit that was tens of meters long pulled out in the courtyard, leading to a residential building across the street, on his way back home. 

The veracity of the situation was confirmed shortly thereafter. It was a staff member of the unit who privately set up the telephone line for personal use, risking the leakage of classified information.

The national security bureau of Manzhouli quickly contacted the unit and requested immediate rectification of the situation to eradicate potential risks. 

In 2015, the national security agencies officially launched the 12339 hotline for citizens. In 2018, China's Ministry of State Security launched the internet reporting platform website In April 2023, the national security agencies honored individuals who had made contributions in reporting activities that endangered national security for the fifth consecutive year. In August 2023, the official WeChat account of the Ministry of State Security opened a reporting platform.

Some officials from the Yunnan national security department reached by the Global Times said that they have witnessed a significant increase in awareness in the recent past, along with an understanding and participation of the public in safeguarding national security. This has been reflected in the increased number and quality of reports received through the 12339 hotline.

In recent years, with the help of public reports, the Yunnan national security department has successfully solved multiple cases related to ecological and military security, preventing valuable samples of flora and fauna and sensitive military equipment information from being transferred to foreign intelligence agencies.

An information dissemination session on national security is held at a community in East China's Jiangsu Province, on April 12, 2023. Photo: VCG

An information dissemination session on national security is held at a community in East China's Jiangsu Province, on April 12, 2023. Photo: VCG

Selfless, anonymous heroes

"Sorry but I can't disclose the specific details due to confidentiality regulations;" "Please do not mention my name and personal information;" "As a national security officer, I am willing to be an anonymous hero." These are phrases that Global Times reporters have heard repeatedly during interviews, highlighting the uniqueness of covert operations - selflessness, anonymity, and humility.

In the archives of the national security bureau in Manzhouli, two large cabinets occupy an entire wall, filled with files on the same case. This case has spanned over 20 years, involving several generations of national security officers. Behind each page of these files are all-night efforts, undercover operations in harsh weather conditions, and thrilling covert confrontations. However, once they leave the office, these experiences are never mentioned and may never be known.

In the battlefield of safeguarding national security, the invisible gunshots and unheard gun battles have never ceased. It is because of the silent dedication and perseverance of every national security officer that the sovereignty, security, and development interests of the country are protected, and the peaceful lives of the people are undisturbed.

Jiang said that many national security officers silently dedicate their entire lives to their work, without receiving applause and without the spotlight and dazzling stage. They quietly exit the stage after remarkable service, and the driving force that supports them is their firm belief in their hearts.

Currently, the meaning, purpose, and value of national security in our country are richer than at any time in history, and the internal and external factors affecting the same are more complex than at any time in history. The challenges faced in safeguarding national security are unprecedented. As national security officers have stated, "We always maintain a state of readiness, prepared to fight against any behavior that threatens national security."

Hidden in silence, the sword shines in invisibility. In this new era, Chinese national security agencies are embarking on a new journey to faithfully fulfill their duties, safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, be an integral part of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and compose a new anthem for nameless heroes.