National Security: a “Distinctly Chinese Approach”

In late December, China’s National People’s Congress passed a controversial anti-terrorism law, the nation’s first, which came amid a nationwide “war on terror” launched in 2014. An early draft of the law which had failed to pass the NPC drew criticism, and concerns echoed over the successful piece of legislation. The law is one of several pieces of legislation, either recently passed or still being deliberated, that The New York Times’ Edward Wong described last May a part of a legislative trend to reinforce “ideological security”; see also a broad national security law passed in July, or similarly controversial draft laws on cybersecurity and the management of foreign NGOs. After diplomats penned letters of concern about the new and draft laws last month, a top official rebutted while addressing China’s ongoing top political meetings in Beijing. Reuters’ Ben Blanchard reports:

China is taking a “distinctly Chinese approach” to with a raft of new laws, including one on counterterrorism, the third-ranked leader said on Wednesday, offering a strong rebuttal to Western criticism.

[…] Zhang Dejiang, who heads China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, told its annual session that China had laid “a solid legal foundation for accelerating the establishment of a national security system and taking a distinctly Chinese approach to national security”.

“In the face of a grave and complex situation in the fight against both at home and abroad, it is of crucial importance that China intensifies its anti- activities,” Zhang said.

“The improvements to our counterterrorism laws will be of great importance for preventing and punishing terrorist activities according to law, for safeguarding national and public security and for protecting lives and property.”

He made no direct mention of the criticism. [Source]

An earlier report from Reuters’ Jason Subler reviewed the two letters of concern—one signed on January 27 by U.S., Canadian, German, and Japanese ambassadors; the other on January 28 by the ambassador of the EU Delegation to China—sent to Beijing:

The four ambassadors said areas of the counterterrorism law, which the National People’s Congress passed in December, were vague and could create a “climate of uncertainty” among investors. They did not specify which areas.

The EU ambassador used the same phrase to describe the law’s impact, and both letters expressed an interest in engaging with China as it worked out implementing regulations around the law, to try to mitigate those concerns.

[…] While countries often give feedback on proposed legislation in China, the rare joint response by several major powers, and coordination with the EU, signals an increased readiness to lend weight of numbers to their argument.

[…] “While we recognize the need for each country to address its security concerns, we believe the new legislative measures have the potential to impede commerce, stifle innovation, and infringe on China’s obligation to protect human rights in accordance with international law,” said a strongly-worded letter co-signed by the four ambassadors.

China has defended the new and draft laws, saying such steps, including heightened censorship, were necessary to ensure stability in the country of over 1.3 billion people. [Source]

Following the letters of concern, the Global Times released an op-ed claiming the diplomats had “ulterior motives” and had disrespected China’s rule of law.

Calls for increased counterterrorism and national security legislation came in May 2014 in response to mounting violence throughout China, largely concentrated in Xinjiang and blamed by state media on religious extremists and regional separatists. As legislators got to work on drafting new laws, security measures in Xinjiang were steadily tightening, and cultural and religious restrictions aimed at ethnic Uyghurs were enacted; critics have commented that the restrictions are serving to exacerbate unrest in Xinjiang. This week at the political meetings in Beijing, Party chief Zhang Chunxian praised the policy’s efficacy and promised their continuation:

Religious management and ethnic unity had undergone “heartening changes” and the people and officials were in “good spirits”, Xinjiang party secretary Zhang Chunxian said at a briefing on the sidelines of China’s annual parliament meeting.

“Violent terrorist incidents have dropped significantly,” Zhang said, adding that the government’s preventative abilities had increased.

Zhang, however, said conditions for combating terrorism and maintaining stability in the region remained complex.

“Wherever the terrorist mentality and extremist behavior exists, we will maintain (our policy) of striking hard,” he said. [Source]

In January 2014, Zhang called for a “major strategy shift” in Xinjiang, urging that social stability maintenance take precedent over economic development, which had previously been a primary regional goal. At the national political meetings in Beijing yesterday, Premier Li Keqiang put economic disparity in Xinjiang back in focus, calling for more development in the region:

Speaking to Xinjiang delegates to China’s annual meeting of parliament, including the region’s Communist Party chief and governor, Li said Xinjiang occupied an “especially important strategic position”, the official Xinjiang Daily said on Friday.

“Xinjiang’s development and stability … have bearing on national and ethnic unity and national security,” Li said, adding he thought Xinjiang was “generally stable” at present.

Turning to the topic of the heavily Uighur southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the unrest has occurred in recent years, Li said companies which “suit actual local conditions and are good for the environment” needed to be “guided” to set up there.

“Let the people, especially the young, have something to do and money to earn,” he said. […] [Source]