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UPDATED: July 13, 2015 NO. 29 JULY 16, 2015
Safeguarding National Security
China passes a new law to ensure comprehensive national security
By Wang Hairong

Armed police conduct a search during an anti-terror drill in the Pudong District of Shanghai on July 2 (XINHUA)

A new national security law was adopted in China on July 1 by the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC). The law earned overwhelming support from members of the NPC Standing Committee, with 154 votes for the bill, no votes against it and one member abstaining. It became effective on the same day.

Although the new law shares a name with a previous law implemented in 1993, it departs significantly from the old one by encompassing a wide range of topics such as defense, finance, resource and energy security, grain security, ecological environment, cyberspace security, culture and religion, among others.

The old national security law, which focused on sabotage and espionage activities, was replaced by the Counterespionage Law that went into force on November 1, 2014.

The new national security law reflects the current leadership's attention and comprehension of national security challenges. In 2013, China set up a national security commission to lead the work in coping with such challenges. The commission was headed by President Xi Jinping.

Protecting core interests

The new law includes 84 clauses in seven chapters such as general principles, the tasks and responsibilities of maintaining national security, the national security system, safeguards to national security, the responsibilities and rights of citizens and organizations, and supplementary provisions.

The first clause states that the purpose of enacting the law is to safeguard national security, defend the people's democratic dictatorship and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and guarantee a smooth progression of the opening up and socialist modernization drive as well as the great rejuvenation of the nation.

The concept of national security is defined in the second clause as a condition in which a country's government, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, people, economy and society and other core national interests are relatively safe and not subject to internal and external threats. National security also refers to the capacity to sustain such a safe situation.

Since the term of national security was codified into the laws of major Western countries more than half a century ago, it has been defined differently in various countries, yet these definitions share one commonality; that is, the core of safeguarding national security is to uphold a country's core interests and other significant interests, said Zheng Shuna, Deputy Director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.

These core interests include the rights to subsistence, independence and development, she said at a press conference held upon the release of the new law.

"Any government will stand firm and will not leave any room for disputes, compromises and interferences when it comes to protecting their core interests," she said. "China is no exception."

The law stipulates that the state should guard and fight against any behavior to subvert and split the country, and keep the country's territorial land, water, sea and air safe.

The law follows a people-oriented philosophy, said Zheng. It states that the government should protect the fundamental interests of the people, create good work and living conditions for people, ensure their personal and property safety, and guarantee their other legitimate rights.

In addition, the law says that protecting important economic interests and defusing financial and other economic risks are also a security responsibility of the state.

The law specifies that a national security check mechanism should be established, while foreign investments, goods and key technologies that might have an impact on national security should undergo national security checks.

Many countries have legal measures regarding economic checks, said Wang Zhenmin, Dean of Tsinghua University's School of Law. China's implementation of such a system does not mean that it does not welcome foreign investment or wants to slow down the pace of opening up, he explained. Rather, it will create a more healthy and sound investment and trade environment.

According to the law, the state should also maintain the security for resources, energy and grain supplies as well as protect ecological environment.

The state should also take necessary measures to protect the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens and organizations in other countries, and protect the country's overseas interests from threat and harm, the law states.

Moreover, the law asserts that China should peacefully explore and use outer space, international seabed and polar regions, strengthen international cooperation in these areas and ensure the safety of China's activities, properties and other interests in these places.

This provision has been added into the new law because lawmakers have found similar provisions in the legislation of the United States, Japan, Russia and Europe, Zheng said.

Zheng added that China's exploration and development in these places have contributed to the better understanding and utilization of resources there and are conducive to the common interests of mankind.

Addressing challenges

Currently, China faces mounting security challenges. "Externally, the country must defend its sovereignty, security and development interests, and internally, it must also maintain political security and social stability," Zheng said.

Some examples of these security challenges include disputes over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and part of the South China Sea, as well as terror activities in China, especially in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Security challenges in unconventional areas are increasingly salient, Zheng said. China is one of the countries suffering the largest number of online security threats, with more than 10,000 Chinese websites attacked every month, 80 percent of which are government sites, said Lu Wei, Minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, at a press conference before the start of the World Internet Conference in November 2014.

One highlight of the new law is a clause on Internet and information security. Article 25 states that the country will step up research and development to keep core Internet and information technologies, infrastructure as well as information systems and data in key sectors secure. More efforts should be made to prevent and punish Internet-based crimes.

China is willing to cooperate with other countries in safeguarding cybersecurity, Zheng said.

Another highlight of the law is on cultural security. Article 23 stipulates that the country shall also carry on China's excellent traditional culture, nurture and practice socialist core values, resist bad cultural influences and enhance cultural competitiveness.

Cultural security is also an unconventional part of the national security concept, said Li Zhong, a researcher with the Institute of Law of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In response to worries that this provision might restrict the freedom of speech, Li told Xinhua News Agency that such worries are unwarranted. He said that bad cultures mainly refer to those touting violence, hatred, pornography and separatism, as these ideas can seriously destabilize the society. He said that advocacy of ethnic hatred is a crime in many countries and cannot be tolerated anywhere.

He said that maintaining cultural security does not mean that China will close itself up either. China will continue to engage in equal dialogue with the world and enrich its own civilization and contribute to the world in the process, he said.

Specifying responsibilities

In addition to defining national security and outlining the national security systems, the law also specifies the responsibilities of the legislature, various levels of government, non-governmental organizations and individuals in maintaining national security.

For instance, it stipulates that the NPC has the right to declare war or an emergency state in any part of the country according to the Constitution.

The State Council has the authority to make national security regulations and policies according to the Constitution and other laws. It can declare an emergency state in part of the country.

For instance, citizens and organizations are obligated to report activities threatening national security and provide necessary assistance to national security, public security and military organs. They should also keep national secrets.

Local governments are responsible for handling national security affairs in their respective jurisdiction. Although that law states that Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions should also perform their duties to maintain national security, yet the new law is not applicable in these two regions.

Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre

Comments to wanghairong@bjreview.com

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