US concerns over China’s counter-espionage efforts ‘a misinterpretation, defamatory label’

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As China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) made its debut on Chinese social media platforms and opened a channel to report suspected spy activities, and also released on Thursday a video featuring major incidents such as the black-clad riots in Hong Kong in 2019 and the return of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, the US raised its so-called concerns over the mobilization of all parts of Chinese society in counterintelligence and espionage prevention, which some experts said is a misinterpretation and defamatory label that Washington has put on Beijing.

With China facing an increasingly complex counter-espionage situation, particularly when the US-led West has stepped up their infiltration efforts in other countries, instigating “color revolutions,” it’s necessary to increase Chinese citizens’ vigilance against suspected espionage activities and strengthen their awareness of national security, said experts.

But the mobilization of the whole of society in counter-espionage is not “encouraging citizens to spy on each other” or “a mass movement to catch spies,” and linking counter-espionage efforts with the openness of the Chinese market is a fundamental misdirection led by the West, as the anti-espionage and opening market are not contradictory, and China’s nationwide mobilization against espionage reassures those eager to invest in China, some experts said. “”

US’ double standards

After the MSS debuted on WeChat on Tuesday, calling on the whole of society to contribute to counter-espionage efforts, the agency released detailed guidelines on Thursday on how and where to report suspected spy activities while emphasizing the importance of punishing espionage and protecting human rights.

The US on Wednesday raised concerns over the latest call from China to encourage its citizens to join counter-espionage work and said it has been closely monitoring the implementation of Beijing’s “expanded anti-spying law,” Reuters reported.

“We do have concerns over it, certainly encouraging citizens to spy on each other is something that’s of great concern,” US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller was quoted as saying in the media report.

The US alleging that China encourages citizens to spy on each other is a misinterpretation of the concept. We encourage citizens to remain vigilant against espionage and report suspicions, which is completely different from spying on each other, and the US’ constant double standards on this issue are obvious, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

“In the US, mass surveillance of citizens is widespread and extensive, not to mention its prevalent McCarthyism in the 1950s when there was indeed a nationwide hunt for spies,” Li said, noting that there is a similar trend now in the US when it comes to China-related issues, which undermines a healthy society.

Some experts said that the latest reaction from the US toward China’s counter-espionage efforts, along with the stereotypical interpretations in some US media, reflect the reaction of “a thief afraid of being caught.” This kind of excessive reaction from the US government and media, especially some anti-China media outlets, toward China’s regular anti-espionage activities only exposed their ill-intentioned attempts.

Recently, CIA director William Burns said that his agency has “made progress” in rebuilding its spy networks in China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said earlier that China will take all necessary measures to firmly safeguard its national security.

“It’s a normal and standard practice on counter-espionage to mobilize all of society, as from an objective view, espionage activities could occur among people around you,” Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University told the Global Times on Thursday.

The USA Patriot Act, for example, encouraged the public to participate in anti-terrorism activities after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. “Only by building a network like this, with the efforts of the whole of society can we effectively deal with the espionage threat,” Shen said.

Intelligence is an important part of the strategic rivalry among countries. US intelligence agencies have also deployed networks around the world, and their relevant intelligence work has received support from some hostile forces in China’s Taiwan island and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Shen noted.

Increasing public awareness

The MSS released on Thursday a four-minute video on their official WeChat account entitled “With Me” showing how the authority safeguards national security.

The video includes reenacted scenes of the social turmoil in Hong Kong in 2019, featuring rioters wearing black masks swinging hammers, individuals holding Molotov cocktails, and fire from debris on the streets. It also reconstructs a scene at the airport after Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou returned to China from Canada after three years of house arrest by the Canadian authorites.

The subtitle states, “No matter where you are trapped or what dangers you encounter, the motherland is your strongest backbone.”

By aiming to instil universal anti-espionage awareness among our citizens, we seek to prevent and oppose any infiltration and “color revolutions.” What happened in Hong Kong in 2019 clearly stemmed from substantial Western infiltration, which enabled violent opposition against central and local authorities and serves as a stark warning to us, Li noted.

The Meng Wanzhou incident also shows that suppressing leading enterprises and aiming to sabotage China’s technological and economic strength is a pillar of US and Western policy toward China, Li said. “To protect our citizens, our society, and the security of our regime, we must solidly carry out work against US and Western infiltration, opposing ‘color revolutions’ and espionage, ensuring long-term societal stability, prosperity, and peace.”

Some Western media said that “an expansion of China’s counter-espionage law that took effect in July” has alarmed not only the US but also foreign companies in China, which could be punished for regular business activities.

“If China were to become a haven for Western spies, it would be unsafe for all enterprises operating healthily in China and even for tourists. If we cannot guard against spies and ensure a safe and stable investment environment, then that would indeed be a matter of grave concern,” a cybersecurity expert who preferred not to be named told the Global Times on Thursday.

China’s nationwide mobilization against espionage reassures those who embrace and have confidence in China and are eager to invest in its reform and opening-up, the expert noted.

“In such circumstances, China governs by law and will not wrong an innocent person, nor will it let off a culprit,” he said.

For example, the secrets of corporate partnerships are valuable, and spies now wage hybrid warfare not only for military but also for economic objectives. Therefore, from this perspective, anti-espionage and openness to foreign investment are not conflicting concepts, the expert noted.

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