In a move reflecting the escalating tensions between its expanding global interests, China is aspiring to engage all sections of society in a preventive war against espionage. ‘Spies are everywhere and could endanger the nation’s security,’ says the new message that the Chinese government wants its 1.4 billion population to understand. In an intriguing mix of alarmist calls to patriotism and public service, Beijing aims to create an extensive network of ‘anti-spy vanguards.’
Espionage is an ancient practice, however, in the ever-intricate world of geopolitics, its nature is constantly evolving, and so China’s awakened focus is not without cause. Seemingly typical actions, like academic collaborations, business partnerships, or cultural exchanges, can indeed serve as sophisticated fronts for the infiltration of foreign intelligence.
This latest move is not China’s first initiative to counteract espionage. In 2014, China established a national security law, followed by the adoption of a counter-espionage law later that same year, which aims to make ordinary citizens the ‘eyes and ears’ of the state. In 2017, April 15 was designated as National Security Education Day, aimed at making the public more aware of national security issues.
Nevertheless, the concept of ‘whole of society’ is an escalation of the state’s expectations from its citizens. By encouraging people to report on each other, the plan is to create a society in which everyone is potentially under surveillance. While this might seem like a dystopian nightmare to western democracies, Beijing believes it is necessary to protect against foreign influences threatening their regime.
Critics argue this kind of mass surveillance can perpetuate fear and suspicion among the public, potentially stifling healthy debate or dissent. It also poses serious implications on the freedom and privacy of individuals. However, from Beijing’s perspective, these are necessary sacrifices to safeguard their national interest.
In conclusion, China’s new initiative to press all its citizens into service to counter espionage marks a profound shift in its national security tactics, showing a government that is deeply concerned about the perceived threats from abroad. Whether this strategy will succeed or backfire is an issue only time will tell.