Jinping’s government announced a propaganda blitz on campuses; an unsettling addition to their curricula: an introductory course on how to capture spies, early this September.
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Beware! Spooks Are Everywhere
Reportedly to the country’s espionage service, movies were broadcast onto faculty screens at the government-run Tsinghua University ordering instructors and students to form a “defence line” opposing foreign troops, while the Beijing University of Technology had a garden party with a national security theme.
Even invited to participate in an engaging training game titled Who’s The Spy, students at Beihang University, an aeronautics school under US sanctions for its military connections, were encouraged to do so. The Ministry of State Security asked on its freshly launched WeChat account, “In what unique way will the college pupils around you revitalise national security?”
Beijing’s argument to citizens is that spooks are everywhere, not just at colleges, as President Xi Jinping deploys a forcefield of safety precautions to ward off alleged external challenges to Communist Party rule. Police in Henan province advised residents to question suspicious neighbours about cultural traditions to determine their level of patriotism, and Shandong province state media released banners with the warning “spies might be everywhere around you.“
The initiative follows a National Security Council meeting that Xi presided over in May and highlighted the value of “extreme-case scenarios” contemplating, a term the governing party has historically reserved for defining readiness for natural disasters. Since then, China has implemented a new anti-spy law, charged consulting businesses with cooperating with foreign intelligence services, and issued warnings against the infiltration of foreign troops.
Maybe Xi has a legitimate cause for rallying the populace under a shared danger. Just as the Asian superpower approaches a downturn that can potentially ignite another flurry of social upheaval, China is embroiled in an ideological conflict with the US that is straining its economy. Infrequent statewide demonstrations last year were led by students who demanded the repeal of Covid Zero and, in certain instances, the ouster of Xi.
“There are very apparent fears at the top leadership at the present moment of economic hardship,” said Katja Drinhausen, director of the politics and society programme at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. “It is an extremely hazardous strategy to play to use common dread as a way to create political and social solidarity.”
Sincere Patriotism Or Forced Jingoism?
The Ministry of State Security was established in the 1980s when the Communist Party merged its intelligence divisions. Since then, the organisation has remained secret. Since hotlines were its only public forums for reporting acts harming national security, it is the only cabinet-level ministry lacking a recognised website.
That situation altered when the ministry joined the Chinese social media platform WeChat last month, that situation altered. Subsequently, it has blogged nearly daily on its attempts to ensure national security, even advising elementary school pupils on which images they shouldn’t share online. That follows CIA director William Burns’ declaration in July that the organisation has improved its surveillance network in China.
In an unprecedented step for an organisation that fails to provide information on its charges, the MSS has now revealed specifics on two incidents involving Chinese officers it jailed for giving information to the CIA. Even the geopolitical realm has been touched upon, with an advisory to the US that it must demonstrate “sincerity” for Xi to be present at a gathering of the world’s top businessmen in November in California when he is expected to meet with President Joe Biden for the very first time this year.
“The growing prominence of the MSS appears to be part of a campaign to normalise national security as an essential consideration in government legislation, by encouraging it to develop a reputation that is more like that of economic agencies,” said Neil Thomas, an associate for Chinese politics at Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis.
Jinping’s Guide To Mistrust And Suspicion
In a country where many people still recall the negative repercussions of encouraging residents to keep tabs on one another, the outcome is an increasing degree of suspicion among citizens. The Cultural Revolution under former leader Mao Zedong was a bloody time when the populace was urged to report even the most remote possibility that a friend, spouse, or parent was involved in organisations working to bring down the Communist Party.
One Chinese employee’s failure to recall the words to a well-known Chinese song at a karaoke night purportedly contributed to his coworkers reporting him to the authorities in July.
An individual who was familiar with the group said, “He proved out to be a you-know-what,” on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, which bears the name of Mao’s Little Red Book, which was used to force the populace of the country to spy on one another. Chinese authorities reward civilians who accurately denounce spies with up to 500,000 yuan ($68,160).
About 16,000 people liked the post, which Bloomberg was unable to confirm as they excitedly traded spy-detection advice. They stated that being unable to understand lingo made famous by the yearly spring gala broadcast or maths class mnemonics might all be signs of a ghost.
The campaign to catch spies runs the danger of harming innocent individuals. One user expressed regret in a post that was removed on Xiaohongshu after learning that the person they had misidentified as a suspected foreign spy was a student collecting pictures for fieldwork study. A request for comment from Bloomberg received no response from the subject.
In the workplace, there is an increase in constant monitoring over disclosing confidential information. Due to those with direct knowledge of the situation, state-owned businesses are conducting training programmes on confidential information. One of those interviewed, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the government, claimed that more documents are being designated as state secrets and are only accessible at the office.
The government has also released an app to assist Communist Party members and government workers in improving their knowledge and proficiency in maintaining secrecy.
I Spy With My Little Eye?
Defending the future of the Communist Party is intrinsically connected to the concern with national security. In a July article, State Security Minister Chen Yixin stated that electoral stability was a component of national security. “Regime security is the foundation of political security,” he continued.
However, that drive is also fueling a strong antipathy against foreigners, which is at odds with the party’s newly declared goal of luring investors and reviving the private sector. Foreigners remark that as the climate of distrust intensifies, it is more difficult to interact with authorities who were formerly cordial.
Encouragement of citizen espionage would have devastating repercussions for China’s general governance, according to Sheena Greitens, an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin.
She warned that it could result in inaccurate reporting. “That could work against the internal security agencies themselves because it means they are relying on progressively suspect data.”