China is offering its citizens cash rewards for information on people who endanger national security, as authorities step up a years-long campaign to root out what they see as growing threats from foreign espionage and “hostile forces”. (Zhang Peng, LightRocket, Getty Images)
Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes
ATLANTA — China is offering its citizens cash rewards of up to 100,000 yuan ($15,000) for reporting people who endanger national security, as authorities ramp up a year-long campaign to eliminate what they see as growing threats from foreign espionage and “hostile forces”.
Successful informants can receive either “spiritual rewards” in the form of certificates or “material rewards” in cash, according to regulations released Monday by the Ministry of State Security.
Cash rewards are categorized into four tiers based on tip value, ranging from less than 10,000 yuan ($1,500) to more than 100,000 yuan.
Denunciations must be specific about the people or actions involved, and the information must be new to the authorities. Reports can be made in person, online, by mail, or through the state security hotline.
For years, Chinese authorities have encouraged the public to inform about foreign spies and their Chinese collaborators through propaganda and incitement campaigns – efforts that accelerated under the country’s leader, Xi Jinping.
“We must ensure that national security is entirely for the people and by the people, mobilizing the efforts of the whole Communist Party and the whole society to gather strong forces to safeguard national security,” he said. Xi told officials in 2016.
In 2017, the Beijing municipal government began offering rewards of up to half a million yuan ($75,000) to anyone who helps unmask a spy. In a year, authorities received nearly 5,000 reports and distributed rewards to informants ranging from scientific researchers to taxi drivers, according to the official Beijing News.
The new measures are aimed at normalizing such rewards and motivating the public, an official from the Ministry of State Security told Legal Daily, a public newspaper.
“The formulation of the measures helps to fully mobilize the enthusiasm of the general public to support and assist the national security work, and to broadly rally the hearts, morale, wisdom and strength of the people,” the ministry official said. .
The regulations also come as Chinese officials and state media push the narrative that China is under serious and constant threat from “hostile foreign forces”, who supposedly seek to infiltrate and undermine the country of all possible ways.
“China’s national security is facing a serious and complex situation. In particular, foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have greatly intensified their infiltration and espionage activities with more diverse means and are targeting more areas. wide, which poses a serious threat to China’s national security,” he added. said the ministry representative.
China’s growing mistrust of foreign influences stems in part from its growing geopolitical rivalry with the West, particularly the United States, as the country grows more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad under Xi.
Xi’s efforts to bolster national security began a year after he came to power. In November 2013, he set up a powerful National Security Commission — which he heads — to spearhead the effort and better coordinate the wings of the country’s security bureaucracy.
In 2015, China passed a comprehensive national security law covering a wide range of areas, including defence, politics, economy, environment, technology, cyberspace, outer space, culture, ideology and religion. He also set up a nationwide hotline for citizens to report suspected spies or espionage.
On April 15, 2016, the country marked its first annual National Security Education Day with a flurry of propaganda, including a cartoon-style poster displayed across Beijing warning young female civil servants to date handsome foreigners – lest they fall in love with a potential James Bond.
And for the country’s second National Security Education Day, an online publishing house released books for schoolchildren to learn about protecting national security, featuring games like “find the spy.” The Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, said the books were part of an effort to mobilize students from elementary to middle school as “a huge counter-intelligence force”.
Around the same time, a widely circulated unofficial notice on social media, listing ways to spot a potential spy. Foreign correspondents, missionaries and NGO workers were among those identified as likely suspects. The same goes for people “with vague jobs, several titles and a lot of money”, those who have “studied abroad in many countries” and “people who regularly go somewhere to meet new people. other people”.
But these campaigns have not only aroused the suspicions of foreigners living in China. They have also been used to target government critics, social activists, lawyers, journalists, feminists and other outspoken members of the Chinese public – especially given the extremely broad and vague definition of “national security”. “.
On social media, liberal commentators are often accused by nationalists of being traitors to their country and labeled “walk 500k“- meaning they work for foreign spies and are worth a cash reward if reported. Their accounts are frequently attacked by nationalist trolls and reported to censors – then deleted from the platforms.
Foreign forces and their Chinese collaborators are increasingly blamed for a host of social problems – from substandard illustrations in primary school textbooks to growing criticism of the country’s zero-Covid policy.
Following the release of the new regulations, some Chinese social media users joked that Chinese “traitors” depreciated to 100,000 yuan from 500,000 yuan in 2017 because there are just too many of them these days. .