A controversial new intelligence law went into effect on Wednesday aimed at allowing the Chinese government to even further crack down on foreign spies by monitoring suspects, searching homes, seizing property and mobilizing spies of their own, providing legal ground for domestic intelligence agencies to carry out operations both inside China and abroad.
The National Intelligence Law was approved (rather quickly) at the bi-annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee and has now taken full effect in China. It is China’s first attempt at legislating — and providing legislative cover for — its spy agencies and operations.
Passed with the intention of combating foreign espionage, the law demands that “China’s intelligence personnel should collect and process intelligence related to overseas organizations and individuals or anyone sponsored or instigated by them, as well as relevant intelligence about threats to China’s national security and interests.”
While this sounds like China’s Counter-espionage Law passed back in 2014, this new law reportedly focuses less on defense and encourages direct actions against possible foreign spies.
“Foreign spies are rampant in China,” anti-terrorism expert Li Wei told the Global Times. “The intelligence law, which also supports counter-espionage work, gives Chinese intelligence officials more power and ‘legal authorization’ to crack down on spies, who conduct their operations in the shadows.”
Li thinks the law will make it easier for government departments to work together and target suspects more efficiently than before.
“Previously, intelligence personnel needed to ask permission from authorities on a case-by-case basis as there was no law in the field,” he said. “Now they can carry out their intelligence work in accordance with the law.”
The law allows the Chinese government to investigate possible cases of espionage in all areas “where China’s interests are involved,” according to Wang Qiang, a specialist on non-war military actions. Wang claims that it’s crucial for the law to extend outside of China’s borders because of “widespread terrorism.”
As Reuters notes, the law passed unusually quickly. Most laws get at least two rounds of public consultation before being approved, but the National Intelligence Law received only one three-week long round. The standing committee also passed it after just two rounds of discussion, less than most laws, which are discussed for three or more rounds.
While foreign espionage is cause for concern, many are worried about the law’s other implications — most of which grant the government more power to use surveillance.
According to the law, obstructing espionage work can lead to up to 15 days detention, along with harsh inspections and “quarantines” for rule breakers.
Additionally, if the government suspects someone of espionage, they can confiscate personal property like vehicles, cellphones and even homes, according to Reuters.
However, it appears that even without this latest law, China’s counter-espionage efforts have been rather successfully recently. Last month, the New York Times published a report alleging that China had managed to cripple US spying operations in its country by killing or imprisoning 20 CIA spies earlier this decade.
Additionally, China has often looked to crowdsource its counter-intelligence operations. Back in 2015, the country set up a national hotline so that citizens could easily report foreign agents. To help its people identify a foreign spy, authorities issued a handy list of suspicious traits to look out for, including: “People who regularly visit certain places to exchange good or documents.” This April, the Beijing department of China’s National Security Bureau offered rewards of up to 500,000 yuan for help in unmasking foreign spies.
Most infamously, last April, Beijing’s state security launched a campaign to warn susceptible Chinese women to be wary when dating foreign men, in case they should turn out to be spies, only after China’s secrets.
By Caroline Roy
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