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China Watch | The Terrifying Truth Behind its Revised Counter-Espionage Law

The expanded definition of "espionage" in the revised law means that legitimate business activities in China could be subjected to spying and investigations.



A meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, where the amendment to the Counter-Espionage Law was approved, held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 26. (© Xinhua News Agency via Kyodo)

On April 26, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China (NPC) passed amendments to the Counter-Espionage Law. This revised version will take effect from July 1. The full text of China's Revised Counter-Espionage Law was published early in May.

This article will examine and expose the chilling nature of this truly unrighteous legislation. 

The first thing to note is Article 1, which sets forth the purpose of the law. In addition to "preserve national security" outlined in the original law, Chinese lawmakers added "protecting the people's interests." 

Because the "people's interests" is significantly broader than "national security," the scope of the revised law has expanded considerably. 

For example, gathering data to profit on the Chinese stock market is difficult to link to national security. However, in terms of "protecting the people's interests," such an act could fall under the Counter-Espionage Law.

'Holistic View of National Security'

On top of the basic principles of the law set forth in Article 2, the revised law has added: "adhere to the holistic view of national security."

This is a concept invented under the Xi Jinping administration. "Holistic view of national security" means national security in a wide range of areas. Such fields include politics, economics, culture, science and technology, and natural resources and energy.

Adding this to the basic principles of the revised law will allow for "anti-espionage investigation" across innumerable fields. Even ordinary cultural activities may become targets of anti-espionage investigation in the name of protecting "cultural security."

Surveillance cameras in front of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In the background is a portrait of Mao Zedong (© Kyodo).

Protecting Japanese Citizens and Businesses in China

Article 4 is the most crucial part of the law, defining what acts constitute espionage. And Section 3 is most noteworthy.

It stipulates the traditional definition of espionage, which is stealing, prying into, purchasing, or illegally providing "state secrets." But it also expands the definition to include "other documents, data, materials, or items related to national security."


This means that the purchase or provision of such materials, even if not classified information, could be deemed as espionage. Consequently, ordinary business and purchasing activities by companies, organizations, and individuals are at risk of being labeled as "espionage."

For instance, a foreign company collecting materials or data for legitimate business purposes in China could easily be accused of engaging in espionage.

Let us assume an extreme case. A businessman or tourist procures a product sample or a copy of a publication in China. However, the authorities identify the product or publication as "related to national security or interests." The simple act of purchasing now becomes an act of espionage.

And so, July 1 will see the dawn of yet another frightening era in China, where anyone can be spied on at any time. How are we to protect the many Japanese citizens and businesses in China? This will be a pressing issue for Japan's government and companies.


(Read the column in Japanese.)

Author: Seki Hei

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