On April 26, China’s legislature approved sweeping amendments to China’s anti-espionage law, broadening the scope of what may be defined as activities related to spying and national security. The amendments come amid a string of high-profile cases involving journalists, foreign executives, as well as international companies in China, who have come under the lens of authorities on national security grounds. The expanded law follows the Xi Jinping government’s increasing focus on “security” and a recent policy shift that now emphasises the dual importance of “development and security”, rather than a focus solely on economic development.
The recent amendments are to China’s 2014 anti-espionage law. Article 1 of the law says the idea behind the legislation is “to prevent, stop and punish espionage conduct and maintain national security.” The broad ambit of what constitutes “national security” as well as the law’s focus on involving a “whole of society” approach to counter-espionage, including from Chinese enterprises and organisations, evoked concerns among both rights groups and foreign enterprises in China.
Foreign governments are especially concerned whether Chinese companies, particularly in the tech sector, would be mandated to offer their vast amounts of data to the authorities. For instance, one article of the law mandates that “all State organs, armed forces, political parties and public groups, and all enterprises and organisations, have the obligation to prevent and stop espionage activities and maintain national security.”
Another article encourages ordinary citizens to take part in national anti-espionage efforts by reporting to the authorities any activity deemed to be suspicious and endangering national security.
The latest amendments are the first changes since 2014, and will take effect on July 1, 2023. They have further broadened the law’s scope, with one of the changes declaring that “all documents, data, materials, and items related to national security and interests” will be protected on par with what are deemed state secrets.
The definition of espionage has also been expanded to include cyber attacks. Essentially, the transfer of any information deemed by authorities to be in the interest of what they define to be “national security” will now be considered an act of espionage.
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