World and Nation

China approves security law emphasizing counterespionage

BEIJING — President Xi Jinping of China has signed a new Counterespionage Law, replacing the 1993 National Security Law with an updated set of rules that will more closely target foreign spies and Chinese individuals and organizations who collaborate with them.

The new law, which was signed by Xi on Saturday, “comprehensively revises the National Security Law to emphasize anti-espionage work,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency said. In previous weeks, Xinhua said that the law was better suited to “a new situation, and new tasks, facing the country’s security needs.”

The change suggests concerns at the top of the Communist Party that China faces growing political threats from overseas, analysts said.

“Changing the name of the law from a ‘National Security Law’ to a ‘Counterespionage Law’ inevitably sends a message that the party is concerned about — and may intend to more closely monitor — the relationships between many of its citizens and the international community with which China is increasingly intertwined,” said Murray Scot Tanner, an analyst at CNA Corp., a research group based in Arlington, Virginia.

The new law was signed a year after the establishment of a National Security Commission, headed by Xi, that has been likened to the National Security Agency in the United States.

“This is a new direction taken by the national security apparatus to heighten national security,” Yuan Yi, a professor of politics at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, said in an interview conducted shortly before the law’s passage as drafts of the document were circulating. “I suspect this new law was a concrete result of the founding of the National Security Commission. They looked back at what was missing,” and focused on perceived, growing threats from the outside world, Yuan said.

The second article of the new law states that its new primary goal — counterespionage — will be carried out in concert with the “mass line,” Maoist parlance revived by Xi that aims to extend the reach of policies with the active cooperation of hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese.

“I think it serves as a gesture to reinstate a time-honored effort of previous mass mobilizations; it’s an open call to all people, all walks of life,” Yuan said.

The new law also makes clear that it is legal to freeze or seize the assets of suspected spies or spy organizations operating in the country. But it added that human rights would be protected under the law.