Communist China’s spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), has issued a call for citizens to actively participate in a counter-espionage program that encourages and normalizes people spying on and reporting on each other.
According to the MSS announcement issued on Aug. 1, the program will create channels for Chinese citizens to report “suspicious activity” and potentially receive rewards for doing so.
The official WeChat social media account of the MSS, which handles both espionage and counterespionage, said it intended to create a system under which it is “normal” for the general public to participate in counterespionage and erect a “line of defense” to protect the regime from foreign spies.
Last month, Minister of State Security Chen Yixin already announced in a Chinese legal magazine article that political security should be regarded as a paramount priority of national security, with the “core” of political security being the security of China’s political system.
“The most fundamental is safeguarding the leadership and ruling position of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” Chen said.
Tracking people’s devices in the name of national security
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The call to increase public support for anti-spying efforts comes in response to China’s counter-espionage law’s expansion, enacted in July.
The updated law bans the transfer of information related to national security and interests. Still, it does not specify which kinds of information would be labeled harmful to national security and interests, so anything could be construed as an offense.
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The regulation allows law enforcement to access data, electronic devices, and information about personal property when conducting an anti-espionage investigation.
The plans presented also corroborate with reports reaching the West via social media, especially those from Songpinganq, a prominent online critic of the CCP with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.
“Digital ID enables Chinese police see your social media posts by just scanning your ID card,” Songpinganq wrote in a July 31 tweet. However, it’s unclear what period the accompanying video was from.
“Police regularly scan citizens’ ID cards in subway, trains, ferries…even sidewalk. If you bad mouthed Chinese government on social media, your ID card will trigger an alarm,” the comment continued.
“Why are the police suddenly checking every passenger’s phone?” the Chinese text displayed in the video reads.
The new Chinese law led U.S. authorities to issue a warning to foreign companies in China as they could be liable for punishment just for executing regular business activities.
According to the CCP regime, it is under continuous threat from foreign secret operatives, most notably the United States, which was dubbed by a Chinese foreign ministry official the “empire of hacking.”
Meanwhile, many Western nations, with the U.S. at its forefront, accuse China of espionage and cyberattacks; an accusation that Beijing, in turn, rejected.
Numerous Chinese and foreign nationals have been detained and arrested in China recently on suspicion of espionage, including an executive from the Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma in March.
Since September 2020, Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained on suspicion by China for divulging state secrets to another nation.
Reuters contributed to this report.