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People's Liberation Army

China’s new security law a necessary step in the fight against global terrorism

It is for the authorities to never lose sight of the scope to strike a balance without compromising security or needlessly encroaching on rights.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 12:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 1:19am

Wherever governments have passed unprecedented security laws to confront the threat of terrorism to civilised society and its way of life, their actions have prompted concerns about adverse effects on freedom of expression and intellectual property rights. In the face of the boundless reach of violent extremism in the cyber age, the need for heightened security has, sadly but understandably, prevailed over those worries. China has proved no exception, with the passage by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee at the weekend of the country’s first counterterrorism law.

The law expands and consolidates the counterterrorism apparatus to be found in related provisions of criminal and emergency response laws. A new provision requiring technology companies to share encryption keys and back-door access with state security agents seeking to prevent or investigate terrorist acts has attracted most attention from human rights and IP advocates. Their criticism has echoed concerns raised by President Barack Obama in talks with President Xi Jinping (習近平) earlier this year. However, it is a measure of the extent to which precious freedoms and rights have been put in play by the threat of terrorism that in answer to criticism, Chinese spokesmen have been able to point out that other countries have felt compelled to introduce similar requirements.

The question is how to strike a balance between implementation of the new law and the values it is designed to safeguard. It is good therefore that the legislation gives agencies clearer legal definitions within which to plan, coordinate and exercise their powers. It remains for the authorities to never lose sight of the scope to strike a balance without compromising security or needlessly encroaching on rights.

The new law is long overdue, as evidenced by domestic terrorist activity, particularly in the restive Xinjiang region, the killing of a Chinese by Islamic State extremists in Syria last month, and the deaths of three Chinese in an attack last month by extremists on a hotel in Mali, prompting tough words from Xi and a pledge of support for international efforts. The new law allows the PLA to take part in counterterrorism operations overseas with the approval of the Central Military Commission and the countries involved, and provides a more coherent operational structure, through a new state-level leading group on counterterrorism with affiliated agencies at city level and above.