New national security law needed to cover burgeoning threats: analysts
China is renaming its National Security Law as the Counter-Espionage Law to standardize and strengthen anti-spy work, following the announcement late last year that an across-the-board national security commission would be established.
A bill submitted for first reading at the bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which will run through Monday to Sunday, suggests renaming the National Security Law to allow more provisions for counterespionage.
The country's counterespionage agencies currently face new circumstances and challenges and need stronger support from the legislation, said Geng Huichang, minister of national security on Monday.
The current National Security Law, which took effect in 1993, mainly regulates the work of the country's national security agencies, whose major duty is counter-espionage.
The bill introduces new regulations about anti-spy work that have been proven effective but not written into the current law. It also rewrites articles that are not in line with other laws revised in recent years, including the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law.
Foreign organizations and individuals who commit espionage, or who instigate and sponsor others to do it, will be punished, as will domestic organizations and individuals who spy on the country for foreign organizations and individuals, the bill proposes.
It grants national security agencies the authority to ask an organization or individual to stop or change activities that are considered harmful to national security. The agencies are also entitled to seal and seize any device, money, venue, supplies and other properties that are related to espionage activities, according to the bill.
Analysts agreed that the bill was a necessary decision to improve the rule of law in counter-espionage as part of a broader security framework raised by the Communist Party of China's National Security Commission (NSC).
The NSC, announced in November, is headed by Xi Jinping, who is also head of the State, the Party and the military.
When chairing the first meeting of NSC in April, Xi said China will build a comprehensive national security system that covers the politics, territory, military, economy, culture, society, science and technology, information, ecology, nuclear, and natural resources.
"China now faces the most complicated national security situation in history with multiple challenges in not only traditional national security factors such as territory but also non-traditional factors including energy and information security," said Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
As a major rising power in the world, China is witnessing increasingly active espionage targeting the nation, Li said.
A resident from Sichuan Province has recently been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for releasing military secrets to an overseas intelligence agent. The agent had reportedly recruited a total 40 people, mainly through Internet, in more than 20 cities and regions in the past seven years, People's Daily reported in May.
"China has suffered greatly from foreign espionage activities and it is necessary to set up a specific law targeting such deeds," Wang Guoxiang, an associate professor at Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "We used to treat national security as equal to political security. Such an idea is out of date and the renaming of the law is a mere adjustment to its original position."
Wang said a new national security law is needed to cover more new types of threats, adding that specific laws could also be set up to handle intelligence security and terrorism.
Proposals on a counter-terrorism law have been widely discussed among Chinese analysts. China will work on a counter-terrorism law if the fight against terrorism requires it, said Zang Tiewei, a senior official with Commission for Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of the NPC.
Li said it is possible that a counter-terrorism law could be passed by the end of this year, considering the growing terrorist threat.
Meanwhile, Mo Shaoping, a renowned criminal defense lawyer in Beijing, suggested legislative body allow the judicial authorities to offer a judgment on whether a foreign-based organization is an intelligence agency or not. Presently, the state security departments have the sole and final judgment.
"It is the most controversial question that can put a man between the crime of espionage or innocence. I hope this can be revised in the new law, which could better protect people's rights," Mo added.
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