Chinese Law Broadens National Security to Include Internet, Space, Domestic 'Threats'

china-beijing-npc-session-closing-july1-2015.jpg Members of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee vote during their closing meeting in Beijing, July 1, 2015.

China's parliament adopted stringent new laws on Wednesday that broaden the definition of "national security" to include sovereignty over the country's tightly controlled Internet, strategic industries and domestic unrest, official media reported.

The law claims sovereignty over Chinese "activities and assets" in outer space, in the depths of the ocean and in sensitive polar regions, and sets up a national "security review and regulatory system ... to censor items that have or may have an impact on national security," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The new law was passed in response to what National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee member Zheng Shuna described as growing pressure from within and without, the agency said.

"We are under dual pressures," Zheng told a news conference in Beijing.

"Externally speaking, the country must defend its sovereignty, security and development interests, and internally speaking, it must also maintain political security and social stability," Zheng said.

The new law defines as a national security matter anything that threatens China's government, territorial sovereignty, unity, as well as its economy and the "well-being" of its people, Xinhua said.

National security means that all of the interests of the country, defined as the People's Republic of China under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, are "comparatively in a state of being in no danger and free of any threat from both within and without, and that the aforementioned state can be constantly guaranteed."

As the law passed in the NPC, police detained dozens of people on Tiananmen Square who arrived in a bid to complain about the government.

They were among thousands of petitioners who converged on state and party complaints offices in Beijing to seek redress over alleged official wrongdoing on the 94th anniversary of the party's founding, according to Sichuan-based petitioner Li Min.

"There are at least 10,000 petitioners here today," Li said. "First we went to the organization department of the party, to complain about the party secretary back home in Shuangliu county where we live."

"There were more than 1,000 people lining up there by 10:40 a.m., all of them to make complaints about local officials," she said.

"In the afternoon, we went to Tiananmen Square, and a few dozen of us petitioners were taken to the Tiananmen Square police station. We are all in [the] police station right now," Li said.

"There are about 30 people here, six of them are with our group," she said.

According to Li, there were also crowds of some 3,000 petitioners lining up outside the complaints office of China's cabinet, the State Council.

Retired People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier Gao Hongyi said July 1 is a red letter day in the calendar for many with complaints about official corruption and mistreatment by police, loss of land and forced eviction from their homes.

"I come here every year on July 1," Gao said. "There were a lot of people outside the organization department today, and there were buses lined up outside [party graft-busting body] the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection."

Authorities detained busloads of petitioners and hauled them off to unofficial detention centers on the outskirts of Beijing, to await escort back to their hometowns, Gao said.

"They put people on these buses and took them off to Jiujingzhuang; a lot of people were taken to Jiujingzhuang," he said.

Nationwide surveillance system

The new national security law comes after a nationwide system used for keeping track of critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including petitioners, was upgraded to the status of a national-level policy in 2014.

The nationwide surveillance system now actively targets civil society for control and suppression, and has strengthened 'grid' surveillance to exert and maintain social control, rights activists have said.

In March 2014, Premier Li Keqiang also announced a rise in the domestic security, or "stability maintenance," budget to 205 billion yuan (U.S. $33 billion), although Beijing has since kept the domestic security spending figures secret.

The new law also appears to imply that anything threatening Communist Party rule is also judged to be a threat to state security, a principle which rights activists say is frequently seen in practice but which is seldom codified.

But Zheng said the definition wasn't "too broad."

"The definition does not cover broader areas compared with other countries," Xinhua quoted her as saying.

"Any government will stand firm and ensure that there is no room for dispute, compromise or interference when it comes to protecting their core interests," she said, adding that China has the right to protect its activities, assets and personnel in "new frontiers" such as space and sea-bed exploration.

According to Zheng, that includes the Internet.

"Internet space within the People's Republic of China is subject to the country's sovereignty," she said, adding that China will strengthen its capacity to protect cyber and information security.

U.S. trade groups have expressed concern that Chinese security policies could push foreign businesses out of the country, while the country has repeatedly been accused of involvement in major hacker attacks on U.S. government and commercial systems in recent years, charges Beijing has strenuously denied.

The NPC also passed measures requiring government officials to swear allegiance to China's constitution on Wednesday.

But Beijing-based law professor Zhang Qianfan said such promises should cut both ways.

"The constitution is also a promise, but it needs to be implemented,"
Zhang said. "What's the point in just swearing an oath to it otherwise?"

"The constitution protects freedom of speech, so we should do what the constitution says, and the government shouldn't interfere in our freedom of expression," Zhang said.

The national security law also applies in theory to the former British colony of Hong Kong, where attempts to enact similar provisions prompted mass demonstrations in 2003 and prompted the resignation of then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

But chief executive Leung Chun-ying said on Wednesday that the law wouldn't be implemented in the city.

Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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