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China's New Security Law: Some Preliminary Observations

Gunjan Singh is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 14, 2015

    On July 1, 2015, China’s National People’s Congress passed the Draft Security Law. One of the most comprehensive security laws passed by the Chinese government, it is expected to cover almost all the areas of domestic policies and core interests. Not only does it cover aspects like Outer Space, Polar Regions and Cyber Security, but there is also detailed focus on technology, military, and environment. This gives a clear indication that the Chinese government is ready to undertake any measures to safeguard its interests in the ever changing dynamics of security. According to Zheng Shu'na of the NPC Standing Committee, “We will continue to follow the path of peaceful development but we absolutely will not give up our legitimate rights and absolutely will not sacrifice the country's core interests.”1

    Some scholars argue that the new National Security Law is “aimed at giving the security forces and courts greater leeway in muzzling Chinese civil society and corralling the influence of Western institutions and ideas."2 Others contend that the law appears to be combining the interests of the Chinese Communist Party with those of the Chinese State.3 But overall, it appears that there is enough cause for concern.

    The new law has raised a number of doubts and concerns given that such laws tend to become highly restrictive. The number of internet users in China is expected to reach close to 800 million this year.4 China today employs around 30,000 people as an internet police force to control what people search and write online.5 Internet has become an important medium for the Chinese people to express discontent and anger. It has helped in strengthening civil society. Given all this, the scholarly community is expressing concern that the new law may shrink the space for individual expression. For instance, Maya Wang has argued that such an extensive law will highly restrict the space available to civil society when it comes to criticising and questioning the government.6

    The new law could also potentially affect the country’s economic structure. China’s growth hitherto has occurred on the back of foreign investments. But the new law provides the government with the right to scrutinise each and every foreign investment through the prism of national security. It has been reported that “the new law stipulated a review system to reinforce the country's ability to examine incoming foreign investments for national security threats.”7 Reports also suggest that the law would establish “mechanisms to censor items that have or may have an impact on national security, including foreign investment, particular materials and key technologies.”8

    As the law affects almost all areas of life it is seen as an attempt to control and monitor everything that people do. Since coming to power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has systematically increased government control over the media, and internet and has also taken a hard stance on dissent. One major criticism of the new law has been that it will further affect the level of human rights freedom.

    By extending the notion of national security to the domains of space and the earth’s poles, the Chinese government has expressed its determination to undertake every measure to safeguard interests even in areas beyond the national border. This is making other countries uncomfortable. China has already showcased its superiority in space and is deeply engaged in explorations in the Arctic. The law only strengthens the already existing ideas of ‘domestic security and core interests’ promoted by the Chinese government. Such an extensive and detailed law makes almost everything fall under the purview of national security and core interests.

    The increase in the number of protests and discontent in society could be an important factor behind the passing of such an extensive law. Scholars have been increasingly questioning the sustainability of the communist government. The law provides the government with every means and options to control and monitor dissent and discontent. It is being argued that the law is another measure by which the Xi government is attempting to strengthen control. In addition, the law leaves a lot open to interpretation and thus provides the Party with enough ‘excuses’ to clamp down on any incident or event which it may regard as a threat to the overall safety and security of the Party. Such a law will only work towards strengthening the ideas expressed by a Beijing Professor, “The Party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can’t see him.”9