Anyone Can Be Framed as A Spy in China

Foreign nationals living in China will be put in a situation in which they could be apprehended anytime as a spy. This will likely make it difficult for any country to establish stable relations with China.

China has revised its Counter-Espionage Law, which deals with espionage activities. The revised law will go into effect in July.

In addition to stealing and providing state secrets to others, the law also refers to “other espionage activities” as grounds for being taken into custody. This stipulation has been criticized as enabling the authorities to apply the law arbitrarily. A male Japanese employee of Astellas Pharma Inc. was detained in March on suspicion of espionage.

The theft of “all documents, data, materials and articles concerning national security and interests,” among other things, was added to the latest revisions as a new category of espionage activities. Furthermore, determining what is related to national security is left to the unilateral judgment of the authorities.

It is concerning that the revised law obliges internet service providers and other telecommunications companies to cooperate with the authorities in their efforts to detect espionage. The law also mandates that citizens report to the authorities the discovery of espionage activities.

Foreign nationals living in China must be aware that the Chinese authorities could learn everything they post on social media and everything they exchange with others in emails. They will be placed in an environment in which they cannot even relax with their Chinese colleagues at work.

There is said to be growing concern among expatriates that even chitchat could be reported to the authorities and they could be detained. This is an extraordinary situation in which foreigners and Chinese will no longer be able to have in-depth interactions.

The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is also tightening its grip on Chinese nationals living overseas.

A female student from Hong Kong was arrested upon her temporary return to Hong Kong on the grounds that she sent messages in support of Hong Kong’s independence while studying in Japan. The student was reportedly suspected of violating the Hong Kong National Security Law.

There is no doubt that the Hong Kong authorities monitored the student’s sending of messages while she was in Japan and took her into custody. Isn’t this tantamount to a violation of Japan’s sovereignty?

Xi’s strong intention not to tolerate any breakdown of society appears to be behind the tightening of controls, in order to win out in the competition of systems with the United States. Last year, China’s economy deteriorated due to its zero-COVID policy, and public dissatisfaction erupted at one time.

The more such controls are tightened, the more foreign companies and foreigners will be forced to distance themselves from China. It is inevitable that China’s economy and foreign relations will be adversely affected.

China should realize its own words and actions are seriously hurting public sentiment in Japan and other nations, and undermining friendly relations with other countries and its national interest.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 7, 2023)