SHANGHAI -- The second draft of China’s national security law, announced by the country’s legislature this week, emphasizes the need to protect Internet security, what it calls “sovereignty in the national internet space” and to prevent the spread of "harmful moral standards" online.
The new draft confirms predictions that China would put increased emphasis on controlling its own Internet infrastructure. It also calls for strengthening China’s financial system and banking infrastructure, protecting core industries and areas of the economy, including guaranteeing grain security -- and avoiding food safety scandals, which have caused much alarm in recent years.
The draft law, which could be passed by next spring, represents a significant expansion of China’s previous counterespionage law, which it replaces. It’s been seen by experts as reflecting the desire of President Xi Jinping to get a clear grip on both domestic and international security issues, with the government seeing a range of potential threats at home and abroad. The wide-ranging draft not only talks about guaranteeing citizens’ welfare, and “sustainable and healthy” social and economic development, but also calls for protecting “core socialist values,” ensuring “cultural security” and combating the influence of “harmful moral standards.”
Such phrases are a reminder of the Chinese government’s growing anxiety about the influence of Western values and ideas on a fast-diversifying society. In recent months the authorities have launched a campaign to root out Western ideas from the country’s academic world. In a national security blue paper released last year, they also warned specifically against threats including Western “cultural hegemony” and the “export of western democracy.”
It’s against this background that the authorities have vowed to avoid becoming reliant on foreign technology for any aspects of China’s Internet or cyber infrastructure. Just last week, for example, the country’s Ministry of Public Security announced that it had developed a new smartphone for use by China’s police, in collaboration with Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, with a special secure mode featuring data encryption to prevent foreign espionage.
The government’s growing determination to assert its control in such areas was highlighted by the establishment last year of a new National Security Commission. This body, which experts say is modeled to an extent on the U.S. National Security Council, and is chaired by President Xi Jinping, is designed to coordinate policy across key areas of domestic and international security -- and to prevent a repeat of the situation in which China’s former security chief, Zhou Yongkang, was seen as having significant autonomy under China’s former president Hu Jintao. Zhou is currently under arrest, charged with corruption and leaking state secrets -- in a case that is thought to have involved his plotting against other members of the leadership.
However, the new draft law does not specify the role of the NSC, as had been expected. And some academics have expressed concerns that it is also so wide-ranging that “practically any aspect of social or economic life can be regarded as a matter of national security,” as Dr. Eva Pils of King’s College, London, put it, in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
Amnesty International spokesman William Nee added that, while the Chinese government had “gradually given more freedom to people” in many areas of life, the new law “seems to be seeking to aggressively reassert control over many aspects of Chinese life in the name of national security.”
Critics say such an approach echoes that reflected in other recent draft laws: these include an anti-terrorism law, which some have warned could compromise the independence of foreign technology companies working in China, and a draft law on non-governmental organizations, which significantly tightens requirements for registering an NGO, and would add to the challenges for foreign NGOs seeking to operate in China.
An additional clause added to the national security law after its first draft also calls on Hong Kong (and China’s other Special Administrative Region, Macau) to fulfill its “responsibility to safeguard national security.” Some observers in Hong Kong have seen this as a sign that the government will again try to insist that the city introduce a law against subversion and secession. A previous attempt to pass such a law provoked large protests in Hong Kong in 2003, and the bill was later shelved.
However, following last year’s Occupy Central protests calling for greater political reform in Hong Kong, the central government has become increasingly suspicious of the attitudes of many young people in the city, and has said that “foreign forces” have been stirring up opposition to Beijing.
An article in China’s official Global Times newspaper on Friday criticized students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who this week objected to a planned visit to the university by soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, leading to its postponement. In a reminder of the kind of concerns about foreign influence that have played a part in the drafting of the National Security Law, the Global Times said that some young Hong Kong people had been “brainwashed” with “anti-national” ideas, and “refuse to accept that they are Chinese… They don’t realize how ridiculous their behavior is.” It said that this trend was “dangerous for HK’s future and harmful to the students,” adding, “If they don’t suffer in the long-term for their youthful stupidity, they should be grateful that they live in such a tolerant era.”