China has called on all its people to be spies for the party in what some fear is a worrying threat to foreign business interests in the country.
Citizens should be encouraged to join counter-espionage work, and channels created for individuals to report suspicious activity as well as commending and rewarding them, the state security ministry said on Tuesday.
A system that makes it “normal” for the masses to participate in counter-espionage must be established, wrote the Ministry of State Security, the main agency overlooking foreign intelligence and anti-spying, in its first post on its WeChat account, which went live on Monday.
The call to popularise anti-spying work among the masses follows an expansion of China’s counter-espionage law that took effect in July.
The law, which bans the transfer of information related to national security and interests which it does not specify, has alarmed the United States, saying foreign companies in China could be punished for regular business activities.
The revised law allows authorities carrying out an anti-espionage probe to gain access to data, electronic equipment, and information on personal property.
In recent years, China has arrested and detained dozens of Chinese and foreign nationals on suspicion of espionage, including an executive at Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma in March.
Australian journalist Cheng Lei, accused by China for 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 cyberattacks, a charge that Beijing has rejected.
The United States itself is the “empire of hacking”, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has said.
In protecting itself from espionage, China would need the participation of its people in building a defence line, the state security ministry wrote in its WeChat post.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara