US. Can Learn From China’s Spot-The-Spy Program (GotBitcoin?)
BEIJING—In Xi Jinping’s campaign to galvanize China around threats to national security, the latest focus has turned to spies.
In recent weeks, the country has dramatically amped up a call for vigilance even from its youngest citizens, with games such as “Spot the Spy” being played in schools.
Around the first-ever National Security Education Day in mid-April, volunteers in Beijing handed out thousands of umbrellas imprinted with a hotline to call to report any perceived risks.
Posters have gone up in housing complexes and at subway stops with a cartoon story of a foreigner posing as an academic who tricks his Chinese girlfriend into leaking state secrets. The various campaigns warn of other guises as well, including consultants or commercial investigators.
Since Mr. Xi assumed power in 2012, the country has sought to beef up domestic security, including passing a counterespionage law and a national-security law last year. The emphasis comes as Mr. Xi moves to shore up the party’s hold on power and build social cohesion amid more trying economic times.
The government says the national-security law was needed to counter emerging threats, from cybercrime to terrorism.
“We ordinary people need to open our eyes and protect the nation’s core interests,” said a security official in the northeastern city of Tianjin, where a banner urged residents to “build a Great Wall of Iron and Steel.”
Historian and Chinese politics expert Zhang Lifan said the emphasis on vigilance seems to reflect insecurity within the Communist Party, which under Mr. Xi has sought to strengthen patriotism and drill citizens in “core socialist values.”
“The national-security law is actually a security law for the ruling party,” said Mr. Zhang, who says that Chinese society has become increasingly splintered along lines of wealth and privilege.
Economic growth rates hit a 25-year low last year, and outbreaks of labor unrest have increased throughout the country.
“In the past, the idea of the ‘enemy’ wasn’t so broadly defined,” Mr. Zhang said. As the leaders’ “sense of crisis has gone up, they see more and more enemies.”
Xenophobia ran deep in China during the Maoist years, when the country tried to purge itself of foreign influences and family members were asked to inform on each other. Such sentiment has since waxed and waned.
In the post-Deng Xiaoping era, China has mostly been focused on opening up, said Mr. Zhang, who said he can’t recall a time since the Cultural Revolution when fears about foreign spies have been ratcheted up as much as recently.
Some social-media users have cheered on government efforts. “There are too many anti-China traitors—in the future, we should be careful about those second-generation and third-generation Chinese born overseas who come back to work,” wrote one user of Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.
“Friends, I’ll just say one thing: only if we have a country do we have a home, and national security is a necessity. It falls to us all to safeguard,” added another.
Others were sarcastic or accused the government of trying to distract people from more pressing issues.
“I suspect that China’s problematic vaccines were from external enemy forces, and the drug-supervision agency must have been cooperating with them too,” wrote one Weibo user, referring to a recent medical-supply scandal. “How evil, I hate those spies.”
“Why don’t you solve peoples’ livelihood problems, why do this useless stuff?” wrote another. “Are you hoping to eliminate people who think differently through this crime of ‘espionage’?”
“Made Friends Carelessly and Was Incited to Act Against the Country, Stole Secrets, Was Caught and Became a Prisoner”—a billboard displayed in Zibo, Shandong province.
“Don’t think the term ‘spy’ has nothing to do with you. Spies seize every opportunity, and any person could be used by a spy.”—a public-service announcement produced by Yunnan province’s Department of State Security.
“Everyone Has the Responsibility to Fight Against and Prevent Espionage” —posters in a housing complex in the city of Tianjin.
A provincial education official said 20 schools in Nanjing, a city in eastern China, are part of a pilot program testing a new curriculum on national security.
At one school affiliated with Nanjing Normal University, weekly classes feature games such as “Spot the Spy,” in which students in their early teens write and perform skits in which some pretend to be spies and see if their classmates can detect them.
“It is very popular with our students, and very effective,” said Wang Meng,director of studies at the Shuren School. “They decide where the bad guys are from,” he said. “Sometimes they pretend to be Japanese.”
Many cartoon-style, public-service videos adopt a playful tone even as they warn viewers against becoming the tool of foreign agents. One, for example, is set to the James Bond theme and another invokes the roles of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
But State Media Has Reported Serious Consequences
This past week, the Guangzhou Daily ran a report saying that foreign intelligence agencies were using online chat tools and Internet forums, ranging from employment to gay-dating sites, to recruit youth. It cited the example of a 27-year-old who sold photos of military planes to a foreign agent he had met in 2014 through the messaging app WeChat. According to the report, he was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
The week before, China Central Television reported that a Chinese student who had studied abroad and taken photos of military facilities for agents from an unidentified country was sentenced to seven years in prison.
In another recently reported case, a man detained for stealing state secrets in 2011 was sentenced to death, state media said. It didn’t provide details on when.
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