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China Launches Foreign Spy Reporting Website, Offers Rewards for Tip-Offs

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China has launched a new website that allows citizens to report people they suspect of being foreign spies or seperatists.

The Ministry of State Security reporting platform even offers rewards to citizens who report those who are trying to “overthrow the socialist system,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Accessible in both English and Mandarin, the website—www.12339.gov.cn—was launched on Sunday (April 15) as part of China's National Security Education Day.

The new website details an exhaustive list of offences that can be reported, including collusion with foreign countries, plotting to “dismember the state,” and “fomenting subversion of state power” through “rumor, libel or other ways.”

China foreign spies

China foreign spies
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A man walks past a propaganda cartoon and poster warning local residents about foreign spies, in an alley in Beijing on May 23, 2017. Citizens can now report suspected spies and other dissenters online. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

The list also includes anyone “making use of religion to engage in activities endangering state security” and those attempting to bribe state or military officials to access classified material and “state secrets.”

To file a report, a user must select a category describing the offense. They can choose violence and terrorism, espionage, theft or leakage of secrets, secession, subversion of state power, or other.

Users can then select the urgency of their report—low, moderate or high—and can attach documents to support their assertions. The form warns that whistleblowers will face any consequences of deliberate fabrication or distortion of the truth. The website assures users that the identities of those who submit a report will be protected.

The website’s reports guide section states that “report incentives” will be provided to those who significantly contribute to the government’s anti-espionage work, although it does not specify how much will be paid. According to Reuters, the Beijing City National Security Bureau was offering 10,000 to 500,000 yuan (around $1,500 to $73,000) for information on spies in April 2017.

The ministry also released a cartoon, called “a friend with a mask,” to demonstrate behaviour that could be considered questionable. The cartoon tells the story of a foreigner working for a non-governmental organization to promote workers’s rights in China, AFP explained. The foreigner is shown bribing a Chinese official to organize meetings and worker protests. The cartoon explains that public protests are illegal, and shows the foreigner being reported.

In 2016, the government released a series of cartoons warning Chinese citizens not to enter into relationships with foreigners, suggesting this was a way for foreign nations to discover state secrets.

China CCTV

China CCTV
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A man checks security cameras on Tiananamen Square in Beijing on October 31, 2013. China now has one of the most advanced surveillance camera networks in the world, which are even able to identify people with facial recognition. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

China has been enthusiastic in leveraging modern technology to improve its surveillance capabilities. Weaving modern information technology into its national security apparatus is the goal of the country’s ambitious Golden Shield Project, which it is planned will incorporate technological advances to strengthen the control and responsiveness of the country's security services.

The Golden Shield Project builds on internet restrictions—also known as the Great Firewall—that have made China the worst abuser of online freedoms in the world, according to Freedom House.

Last week the country’s facial recognition surveillance camera systems identified a wanted man in a crowd of 60,000 people at a music concert. Police officers were then able to arrest the man who was wanted for “economic crimes.” China had 176 million surveillance cameras in place in 2017, and plans to increase the number to 626 million by 2020. Beijing is now reportedly entirely covered by security cameras.

China is also planning to introduce a Social Credit System by 2020, by which people are constantly monitored and rated based on their daily behaviour. Though the inner workings of the system are a secret, bad scores could prevent people from buying travel tickets, getting the best jobs, or sending their children to the best schools.

Though all countries surveil their citizens to an extent, Chinese adoption of technology to provide an ever-greater degree of public control is truly pioneering. As China continues to fine-tune and extend its surveillance network, other countries may look on with envy. It seems likely that whatever is developed in China will eventually find its way to other parts of the world, either through direct sales or simple imitation.

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