China's third plenum

Chinese fear a new KGB as Beijing sets up powerful national security body

Bloggers in the past few days have voiced their concerns by posting texts and pictures detailing atrocities carried out by the KGB and its predecessor the Cheka

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 2:59pm

China’s decision to set up a powerful national security committee has spurred deep fears in the country of society slipping further into a police state.

Bloggers in the past few days have voiced their concerns by posting texts and pictures detailing atrocities carried out by the KGB and its predecessor the Cheka, the former Soviet Union security agencies known for suppressing dissent and practising torture. Many said they dreaded the KGB would be the model for the new security committee.

Beijing announced at the end of the Communist Party Central Committee’s four-day third plenum that ended on Tuesday that “A national security committee will be established to perfect the national security system and national security strategy and safeguard national security.” Without offering details, the communiqué caused worry among citizens who said “national security” might be used as an excuse for leaders to persecute dissidents in order to preserve their rule.

“This worry is not unfounded, since China’s rulers have always managed to blur the line between ‘national security’ and the security for them to govern,” wrote Jin Manlou, a Shanghai-based writer on weibo. “Often in China, the army is used in domestic situations instead of in international conflicts.”

Others speculated about the high status granted to the new agency, comparing it with that of the KGB.

“KGB – Soviet Union’s National Security Committee, [was] a super agency that only [answered] to the party,” wrote Yuan Tengfei, a history teacher and author of several bestselling history books. “Its predecessor the Cheka persecuted millions of people under Stalin’s orders.”

The Cheka, the first of a succession of Soviet state security agencies, was created in 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. It is believed that approximately 500,000 Red Army deserters were arrested and tortured by the Cheka in 1919 and 1920. Though estimates of Cheka executions vary widely, historians also believe thousands of deserters were shot during the 1917-1922 Russian Civil War.

Bloggers also posted shocking images from the 1992 movie Checkist. The film, directed by Russian director Aleksandr Rogozhkin, explores the secret police’s history of torturing and executing intellectuals, aristocrats and Jews.

“This is terrorism committed in the name of the country,” claimed one blogger.

While anxiety and anger increased in cyberspace, scholars and experts offered justifications for the new national security body in newspapers, calling it a “standard configuration” for “powerful countries”.

In a Beijing News report, Xu Hui, a professor at the PLA National Defence University, said he wasn’t surprised at all by the decision.

“At least, it’s going to be a consultation agency higher than regular think-tanks,” Xu said. “It will be in charge of charting national security strategies and dealing with security threats and crises.”

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