Students wave flags of China and the Communist Party of China before celebrations in Beijing on July 1, 2021, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party. However, few celebrate graft among party ranks. Photo: AFP / Wang Zhao

China’s and Hong Kong’s governments have separately launched reward schemes to encourage people to report to authorities anyone believed to be involved in anti-national security activities, marking an escalation of a clampdown on anti-Beijing protestors who laid siege to Hong Kong in 2019-2020.

On Tuesday (June 7), the Ministry of State Security said it would extend the reward scheme, first launched in Beijing in 2017 to identify spies, across the entire nation. Under the state-backed snitching initiative, an informer can receive as much as 100,000 yuan (US$14,945) per case.

“China’s national security is facing a serious and complex situation, especially when foreign intelligence agencies and various hostile forces have significantly intensified their infiltration and espionage activities with more diverse means across wider fields,” said the ministry.

China has arrested several foreigners in recent years on national security-related charges. In December 2018, China arrested Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig and later convicted them of espionage on what most observers saw as trumped0up charges.

They were released the same day Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was released by Canada after being held on a US arrest warrant for violating Iran sanctions.

Hong Kong police have said many “black-clad rioters,” a reference to anti-extradition law protesters who laid siege to the city in 2019-2020, were still lingering in the community to continue their activities from underground. Both Beijing and Hong Kong have claimed the protestors were backed by Western governments.

Police have said informants could receive as much as HK$800,000 ($101,939) if they reported anyone who possessed flags and banners emblazoned with “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” or even chanted the slogan, which once echoed through Hong Kong’s streets during the protests.

Hundreds of graduates protest during the graduation ceremony at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on Nov 19, 2020. Photo: Fred Wong / Eyepress via AFP

The two schemes were implemented before the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region holds a ceremony marking its 25th anniversary on July 1.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government hoped President Xi Jinping would visit the city on the occasion. If confirmed, it would mark the first time Xi has left mainland China since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.

Since early last year, the Chinese government has called on people to report to authorities activities that could endanger the country’s national security. Citing a reward scheme that had been implemented in the capital city in 2017, it said an informer could get up to half-a-million yuan by exposing a “spy”, or a so-called “walking 500,000.”

The Ministry of State Security’s announcement came after five people were charged in New York for acting on behalf of the Chinese secret police to stalk, spy on and harass US residents critical of Beijing back in March.

Wang Shujun, one of the five defendants, was accused of using his stature within the Chinese American community to induce Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Uyghur and Tibetan activists to confide in him and share their views against the Communist Party of China.

The Hong Kong police also announced on Tuesday a reward scheme to call on people to report “terrorist” cases.

Senior Superintendent Peter Leung Wai-ki, head of the Inter-departmental Counter Terrorism Unit (ICTU), said in a media briefing that the policy had so far received 1.34 million calls on a hotline set up in late 2019 for the anti-extradition protests and another 268,000 calls on a national security hotline created in November 2020.

Leung said it was necessary to set up a new reporting channel, namely the “counter-terrorism reporting hotline,” as extremists hid themselves in society and continued their activities underground. He said an informer could be rewarded between HK$4,000 and HK$800,000, depending on the seriousness of the case.

Hong Kong’s national security law outlines four particular crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign organizations and deems any open speech or verbal promotion of Hong Kong’s secession from China as a crime as well.

A billboard referring to Beijing’s National Security Law for Hong Kong is seen beyond a Chinese national flag held up by a pro-China activist during a rally outside the US Consulate in the city. Photo: AFP / Anthony Wallace

The law’s implementation allows authorities to surveildetain, and search persons suspected under its provisions and to require publishers, hosting services, and internet service providers to block, remove, or restrict content that authorities determine to be a violation of law.

Over the past two years, Hong Kong police have arrested people who publicly showed “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” flags and banners or delivered related leaflets but not those who possessed the items.

Chung Kim-wah, a former assistant professor of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the police’s anti-terrorist hotline could easily be abused, resulting in a decline in mutual trust among Hong Kong people, which he predicted would increase Hong Kong’s governing costs.

Read: Call for HK to prepare for possible US sanctions

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