China’s State Council this week released new definitions of conduct punishable under the 2014 counterespionage act, which will empower state security agents to bar foreigners from entering China if they are considered likely to conduct activities that threaten national security. At the South China Morning Post, Nectar Gan reports:
[… Security agents] can also stop individuals suspected of espionage from leaving China.
And the authorities can order that foreigners who have violated the counter-espionage law be deported.
[…] The definitions of conduct punishable under the law have also been broadened under the new rules.
They include behaviour – such as using religion or cults to harm national security – that goes beyond standard definitions of espionage, namely the practice of obtaining information about a foreign government by spying.
The State Council considers “hostile groups” to include any groups that challenge the power of the Communist Party or the “socialist system”, according to the rules. [Source]
Swedish human rights worker Peter Dahlin, detained in China in January 2016 for allegedly engaging in acts that damage national security, was deported under the counterespionage law. The 2014 counterespionage law was passed as the beginning of a series of security legislation passed under Xi Jinping in recent years, including a 2015 counterterrorism law, a 2016 law on the management of foreign NGOs, a 2017 cybersecurity law, and a 2017 intelligence law. The series of legislation was described by the New York Times’ Edward Wong as being part of Xi Jinping’s larger drive to ensure “ideological security” by combatting “Western influence.” Meanwhile, official awareness campaigns warning of the danger of foreign intelligence actors have been publicized.
At Reuters, Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina describe the criticism that Xi’s security laws have faced, and further describe the widening power of the counterespionage law—which can be used against both foreign and Chinese nationals—following the new State Council definition:
Over five years, President Xi Jinping has ushered in a flurry of new state security legislation to defend China from perceived threats both inside and outside its borders.
Rights groups and foreign governments have criticised the national security laws as being written in such a way to allow the party state to target activists or dissidents who challenge the Communist Party or call for political reform.
[…] Foreign individuals or groups who fabricate or distort facts and issue information that harms China’s national security can be punished, as can people who do not listen to advice and meet individuals that harm national security, according to the new regulations.
The government can block foreign individuals suspected of endangering national security from entering China, and Chinese nationals suspected of “betraying the motherland” can be detained, they say. [Source]
“Foreign hostile forces” have been implicated in several recent political prosecutions of Chinese activists and rights lawyers. Lawyer Xie Yang claimed that he had been“brainwashed” during training in Hong Kong and South Korea in a video confession believed to have been obtained by coercion. Following former lawyer and rights activist Jiang Tianyong’s recent two year prison sentence for “inciting subversion,” state media heaped blame on “foreign, anti-China” forces. Foreign media interviews and influence and funding from abroad were also flagged in the prosecution of Jiang’s colleague Li Heping; in the cases of lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Wang Yu; against Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che (recently sentenced to five years in prison for “subversion”); and in the trials of labor activists and the interrogations of feminist activists.