The US State Department has expressed “great concern” after China’s Ministry of State Security called on the public to help implement a new counterespionage law.
China passed a wideranging update to its anti-espionage legislation last month, banning the transfer of any information related to national security and interests and broadening the definition of spying.
In a WeChat post titled “Anti-espionage requires the mobilisation of the whole society!”, the Ministry of State Security said China should encourage its citizens to join counterespionage work, including by creating channels for individuals to report suspicious activity, and also commending and rewarding them.
The post, the ministry’s first since opening a WeChat social media account, called for “a normalised mechanism for the masses to participate in counterespionage work”.
“Certainly encouraging citizens to spy on each other is something that’s of great concern,” US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said on Wednesday.
“We are closely monitoring the implementation of China’s new counterespionage law, as we have been, which as written greatly expands the scope of what activities are considered espionage.”
Mr Miller said the changes raised concerns over “the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention” in China.
The US State Department issued an updated advisory last month, warning US citizens to reconsider travel to mainland China because of “the risk of wrongful detention”.
“Security personnel could detain US citizens or subject them to prosecution for conducting research or accessing publicly available material inside the PRC,” the advisory said, referring to China by the country’s official title, the People’s Republic of China.
Mr Miller said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised these issues when he met with Chinese officials in Beijing on June 18, the first visit by Washington’s top diplomat to China in five years.
The law, which bans the transfer of information related to national security and interests which it does not specify, has raised fears that foreign companies in China may be punished for regular business activities.
In recent years, China has detained dozens of Chinese and foreign nationals on suspicion of espionage, including an executive at Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma in March.
Australian journalist Cheng Lei, accused by China of providing state secrets to another country, has been detained since September 2020.
China’s declaration that it is under threat from spies comes as Western nations, most prominently the United States, accuse China of espionage and cyber attacks, a charge that Beijing has rejected.
The United States itself is the “empire of hacking”, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.
In protecting itself from espionage, China would need the participation of its people in building a defence line, the security ministry wrote.
Source : ABC