The 'Chill' of China's New Espionage Law Sets in, Analysts Say
Companies and Foreign Affiliations Placed on Watch Lists
In a bid to protect its national security and interests, China recently revised its anti-espionage law, broadening its scope to prohibit any “documents, data, materials, or items related to national security and interests” and giving authorities new surveillance powers.
The move, which has sent a chill through multinational corporations, Chinese companies and other organizations, has also mobilized a national campaign that offers rewards of up to 500,000 renminbi (US$68,400) for reporting suspicious individuals or suspected espionage activities.
Red banners have been placed on Chinese streets proclaiming: “Implement the new anti-espionage law, mobilize collective efforts to safeguard national security” and posters with a hotline number for reporting suspicious individuals can be found on public transport.
State-owned companies or those affiliated with the government are distancing themselves from multinationals offering legal, investment and consultancy services, fearful of being associated with foreign entities. Multinationals themselves are considering decoupling their data and IT systems from China.
The expansive nature of the law and visible signs of surveillance have created an unsettling divide between those in governmental circles and everyone else.
Individuals with foreign affiliations, including those who have returned from overseas, are being placed on a kind of watch list upon arrival in China.
Chinese firms are also indicating in recruitment drives for new employees that they will not consider applicants who have returned from certain overseas regions, and those perceived to have divergent political or ideological views, such as private business people, entrepreneurs and those working in non-government sectors, are especially under scrutiny, The Conversation explained.
The revised anti-espionage law has evoked memories of the Cultural Revolution, an era in which little trust existed in society and even among family members.
The lack of clarity with the law could give rise to witch hunts, leaving people vulnerable to accusations that lack substantial evidence. It could also lead to a retreat into silence or coded language in both face-to-face conversations and social media.
The ripple effect could extend beyond China’s borders, affecting academic exchanges, technological cooperation and diplomatic relations, as well as deterring foreign investment and domestic private enterprises in China, stifling economic growth.
It remains to be seen how the law will be implemented and enforced, and whether it will diverge from its original objectives of protecting national security and interests.