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Human rights in China

China offers first glimpse of sweeping national security law

Proposal reflects President Xi Jinping's push for broader approach to threats but raises fears of further curbs on freedoms, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 7:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 10:49am

China has for the first time released a draft of a sweeping law on national security, a far-reaching term ranging from finance, politics, the military and cybersecurity to ideology and religion.

Analysts said the law reflected Beijing's view that the scope of national security needed to be expanded but it also triggered fears of greater limits on freedom.

The full text of the draft, which had its second reading at a National People's Congress Standing Committee session last month, was posted on the legislature's website late on Wednesday for public consultation.

The law emphasises the Communist Party's leadership in the area, saying the party will direct efforts to establish "a centralised, efficient and authoritative national security leadership system". But it stopped short of referring to the party's new National Security Commission.

President Xi Jinping, who heads the commission, has previously said that national security should be comprehensive, encompassing politics, the military, the economy, technology, the environment and culture.

Li Wei, director of the anti-terrorism research centre at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the draft was geared to meet Xi's new approach to national security, which demands China's security apparatus adapt to changing conditions at home and overseas.

"Such broad areas reflect Xi's call … meaning China can't focus just on its local security issues, but needs to cooperate and develop new security ties with other countries," Li said.

The draft defines "national security" as ensuring that the political regime, sovereignty, national unification, territorial integrity, people's welfare and the "sustainable and healthy development" of the economy and society, and other unspecified "major national interests" are "relatively free from danger and not under internal and external threats".

The draft law also deals with the protection of the socialist market economy, industries vital to the economy as well as other economic interests. It underscores the importance of grain security and cybersecurity, as well as preventing and effectively resolving incidents that affect social stability, such as food safety scandals. In addition, the law stresses the need to prevent cyberattacks and dissemination of illegal and "harmful" content online.

It says the authorities should put mechanisms in place to guard against regional and international financial risks, to protect the security of Chinese citizens and organisations overseas, and to safeguard interests abroad.

In addition to stressing the need for ethnic harmony, the law addresses the threats of terrorism, religious cults, and overseas interference in religious issues.

Hong Kong University law professor Fu Hualing said he wondered why the party's National Security Commission was not mentioned in the draft, saying it was not clear what legal status it had and how its power would be regulated by law.

Dr Eva Pils, a China law expert at King's College, University of London, said that by not making a direct reference to the commission, the law was leaving open which party entity would be in charge of national security. And as the law did not regulate party organs nor seek to curb the party's power, it affirmed the party's supremacy over the state on national security.

Pils said she was also worried that the definition of national security meant that “practically any aspect of social or economic life can be regarded as a matter of national security and thus gives the institutions empowered by the law a mandate to intervene".

"I think the law also manifests a neo-totalitarian ambition  to reach into every sector or society," she said.

The first clause of the law stated that its mission was to “safeguard national security, defend the people’s democratic dictatorship and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics” as well as the “realisation of the great rejuvenation of the nation”.

Joshua Rosenzweig, a law researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he was alarmed at the "strong ideology flavour" of the draft law and the fact that "a strong link has been drawn between the nation and the one-party political system".

William Nee,  China researcher at Amnesty International,  said international practice was for national security laws to be drawn “narrowly” and “with precision”, referring to specific threats. But this draft would cement many problematic concepts that had little to do with national security, such as maintaining “internet sovereignty” through censorship, promoting socialist core values, defending against “unhealthy” culture, and limiting freedom of religion.

“Over the past 30 years or more, the Chinese government has gradually given more freedom to people in areas of life deemed to be non-sensitive. However, this law seems to be seeking to aggressively reassert control over many aspects of Chinese life in the name of national security,” he said.

While the draft said “socialist rule of law” principles, human rights, citizen’s rights and freedom should be respected, it lacked checks and balances to safeguard human rights, he said.

The public have until June 5 to give feedback on the draft, which is expected to go before the national legislature again.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan

 

Security checks

National security covers:

  • the political regime
  • sovereignty
  • national unification
  • territorial integrity
  • people's welfare
  • sustainable and healthy development of the economy and society
  • food and drug safety
  • other unspecified "major national interests

 

These areas should be:

  • relatively free from danger
  • not under internal and external threats

 

The law aims to:

  • strengthen socialist core values
  • take the lead in ideological initiatives
  • prevent infiltration of "harmful moral standards"

 

It also calls for:

  • stronger management of cyberspace
  • prevention of cyberattacks, cybertheft and the spread of harmful information online

 

It will establish:

  • a central national security leading group for policy coordination
  • national security consultation and assessment mechanisms