China mobilizes country to look out for foreign spies, offers big cash rewards
China’s new counterespionage law, which has been on the books for just a few months, is moving forward at a pace as Beijing weaponizes its citizens to report on suspected cases of foreign agents and Western spy networks – even offering big cash rewards for successful tips.
“China’s officials say they want to promote tourism and boost the economy, but [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is security-obsessed, as dictators often are,” Gordon Chang, senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told Fox News Digital.
“To force his Maoist-like vision on China, Xi Jinping is cutting links with the world and promoting xenophobia,” he added. “The report-foreign-spies campaign is very much in line with the mood of 1950s China.”
According to the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, the new law expands “the definition of espionage from covering state secrets and intelligence to any documents, data, materials, or items related to national security interests, without defining terms.” The law also “broadens the scope of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] counterespionage law.”
In August China reportedly arrested an individual for allegedly giving information to the CIA and detained them on espionage charges. Official statements only identified the suspect by the surname “Zeng” and claim the individual formed a working relationship with a U.S. official, trading confidential information for financial payouts.
Reports noted that Chinese intelligence claimed that Zeng, 52, met the official while studying abroad in Italy for his employer, claiming Zeng was in contact with a member of the CIA.
China’s intelligence, security and secret police agency, the Ministry of State Security, has called on its citizens to actively defend the county against espionage efforts.
Chinese officials opened a WeChat account that has a “reporting” button and features articles on how to warn authorities about national security threats, with one report blaming Washington for “hyping up the China threat” narrative. Other articles cover cases that involve espionage by the U.S.
The Bureau also rolled out a campaign that encourages people to report espionage activity under the infamous slogan ‘It is everyone’s responsibility to maintain national security’. The hashtag ‘Discovered espionage, dial 12339’ has received more than 310 million views on Weibo. To help people recognize suspicious behavior, the State Security Bureau released posters that are clearly targeted at catching “foreign spies.”
Users in the comments section encourage the effort, reminding each other about the reward of over 100,000 yuan ($13,700) and praising the “prevention and crackdown on espionage crimes.”
To accompany the campaign cartoon posters have appeared asking people to be on the lookout for spies. One of the posters depicts a man taking pictures of military activities, a hand pointing at a map that seems to identify a military base, and two hands exchanging an electronic memory card for money. The text on the poster reads ‘A military hobbyist or a spy observation post?’. Another poster depicts a consultant giving out a business card that has ‘Peter’ printed on it and looks to be offering a person money in exchange for information on China’s aerospace industry.
Counterespionage efforts are not only targeted at adults. Chinese state media reports that “multiple regions across the country have reinforced education on counterespionage law in different forms including regular national security theory education and other ways to let the public understand the importance of counterespionage.”
China doesn’t only fear information leaking out of the country, it’s also cracking down on “foreign influence” within its borders. The first TED Talks since the start of the COVID pandemic were called off after police expressed concern about links to a foreign organization. The topics to be discussed included nanomedicine, bullying and art.
China’s Global Times responded to world media attention for the canceled event, stating that “the U.S. and West are attempting to tarnish China’s national image and instill panic among the people by smearing China” as they are faced with China’s intensifying efforts to safeguard national security.
“China is not safe for any foreigner,” Chang warned. “Among foreigners, only Japanese people are more at risk than Americans at the moment. Communist Party propaganda organs are now targeting these two countries, relentlessly and maliciously.”
“Chinese people are now fleeing China, so that’s a hint to others,” Chang added. “Everyone should flee while they still can.”
Fox News Digital’s Madeline Coggins and Timothy Nerozzi contributed to this report.