Apologies to author John Le Carre, but China’s latest campaign to root out foreign agents resembles The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and ended up in Beijing.
In a bizarre twist where fact is stranger than fiction, President Xi Jinping’s administration has stepped up its campaign against espionage by launching a ‘spy catcher’ website.
Even for the world’s second-largest economy, it is rather novel, especially since it is in English and Mandarin.
Rolled out by the Ministry of National Security at the weekend, the online platform www.12339.gov.cn encourages people to report national security threats, such as bids to “overthrow the socialist system.”
“This platform accepts reports on clues of any alleged violation of the Criminal law of the People’s Republic of China, the State Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Counter-espionage Law of the People’s Republic of China and other laws, engaging in activities endangering state security,” the Ministry of National Security stated on its website.
There are 40 “specific acts” on the site, including potential problematic behavior, such as “foreigners” meeting “any person within China who has conducted activities endangering state security or is strongly suspected of doing so.”
Significantly, this has raised concerns that any interaction with dissidents would be considered “endangering state security.”
Indeed, while the website did not offer details about “rewards,” the Beijing City National Security Bureau is understood to pay between 10,000 to 500,000 yuan (US$1,500 to $73,000) for information on spies, the official Beijing Daily reported last year.
As part of the campaign, the ministry also released a cartoon, entitled A Friend With A Mask, to mark the Orwellian-inspired National Security Education Day on April 15, the AFP News Agency reported.
The animated short film tells the story of a foreigner from an international non-governmental organization, or NGO, who is promoting “Western-style” workers’ rights in the country.
“The foreigner allegedly ‘bribes’ a Chinese representative to organize seminars and mobilize workers to protest for their rights,” AFP said. “According to the cartoon, such public protests are illegal and a vigilant worker reports the foreigner behind ‘the unrest’.”
Still, China is only using the West’s playbook on the dark arts. The Central Intelligence Bureau, or CIA, in the United States has a “report threats” section along with the United Kingdom’s “report suspicious activity.”
But the UK and US operate within the framework of independent judiciaries to safeguard the human rights of citizens.
Unfortunately, the jury is definitely out on China.