China’s intelligence agencies would have stronger powers to monitor and investigate foreigners and conduct operations inside China and abroad under a newly proposed law codifying the work of Beijing’s vast security apparatus.
The government under President Xi Jinping over the past several years has sought to expand and provide legal foundations for intelligence agency powers in the name of national security and combating terrorism.
The moves have sparked concern from the U.S. government and human rights groups that say the new powers could be used to suppress political dissent, silence foreign organizations working in China and force technology companies to give the Communist Party access to sensitive information.
A coalition of business groups from Japan, Britain, the U.S. and other countries this week appealed to China to postpone a newly adopted cybersecurity law. They warned it could violate Beijing’s free-trade commitments. Chinese officials maintain tighter data controls are needed to prevent terrorism and anti-government activity.
The latest proposal would allow authorities to use electronic surveillance techniques and seize vehicles and real estate. It calls for collaboration on intelligence operations at all levels of Chinese society, including the military, public institutions and citizens.
“Foreign bodies, organizations or individuals engaging in acts harming the national security and interests of the People’s Republic of China within Chinese borders must be punished by law,” the proposal declares.
The proposal states intelligence agencies could “collect and process” information on foreigners and Chinese citizens and conduct work outside the country’s borders. However, it was unclear from a publicly released draft whether operations abroad could target foreigners or must be limited to Chinese citizens.
The law also states that intelligence operatives who abuse their powers will be subject to prosecution.
The draft will have to undergo three readings by the National People’s Congress or its standing committee before becoming law.
In April, authorities in Beijing began offering cash rewards of up to 500,000 yuan (USD72,500) for citizens who turn in foreign spies. The proposed law allows for rewards for “major contributions” to intelligence activities to be offered nationwide. AP