BEIJING: China passed a wide-ranging new national security law Wednesday, expanding its legal reach over the Internet and even outer space as concerns grow about ever-tighter limits on rights.
The rubber-stamp National People’s Congress standing committee passed the legislation by 154 votes to nil with one abstention, officials said at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Since President Xi Jinping came to power, the ruling Communist Party has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on activists, while unrest related to the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang has worsened and spread.
“China’s national security situation has become increasingly severe,” said senior NPC official Zheng Shuna.
China was under pressure to maintain national sovereignty and at the same time handle “political security and social security, while dealing with internal society”, she said.
It would “not leave any room for disputes, compromises or interference” when protecting its core interests, she added.
The legislation was both wide-ranging and couched in general terms, with few exact details. Sentences for violators are not specified, for example.
The law vows to “protect people’s fundamental interests,” the official Xinhua news agency said, including “sovereignty, unification, territorial integrity… (and) sustainable development.”
It brings both cyberspace and outer space under the national security umbrella, along with the ocean depths and polar regions, where Beijing has been extending its exploratory activities.
The Internet — which is subject to strict censorship in China — was “a significant infrastructure facility of the country.” Zheng said, adding that Beijing’s sovereignty over it should be “respected and maintained.”
The new law provided a legal foundation for “the management of Internet activities on China’s territory and the resisting of activities that undermine China’s cyberspace security,” she added.
Cause for concern
Maya Wang, China researcher for US-based Human Rights Watch, said all governments were justified in having their own national security laws and apparatus, but the content of China’s draft law had caused concern.
“It includes elements that define criticism of the government as a form of subversion,” she said.
“It is very vague in defining what kind of specific actions would constitute a citizen endangering state security.”
Wang said the measure was part of a series of state security legislation — including a new anti-terrorism law — that as a whole “reduces the capacity of civil society to criticize the government and hold the government accountable.”
Xi has made security concerns a top issue, and chaired the first meeting of the country’s national security commission in April last year.
Beijing is embroiled in longstanding territorial rows in the East China Sea with Japan, and in the South China Sea with several regional countries.