In Beijing, there’s a growing sense of shadows lurking in every corner. The city’s narrative suggests that threats aimed at weakening its core can be found in diverse places: from multinational corporations to innocent-looking social media, and even amongst unsuspecting students.
Beijing’s message is loud and clear, “Spies are everywhere. It’s up to you, our people, to help us identify them.”
Amid this rising alarm, an ordinary veterinarian faculty at a Chinese university finds themselves needing to understand state secrets, just as a kindergarten in Tianjin is teaching its staff about the country’s anti-espionage laws.
The usually secretive Ministry of State Security made a groundbreaking move by opening its first social media account. Their aim? Public engagement. Their inaugural message sent chills across the nation, “We need a whole of society mobilization against espionage. It’s time for everyone to participate. This should be normalized.”
“Be prepared for the worst-case scenarios,” urged Xi Jinping, China’s leader, emphasizing the importance of real-time monitoring and actual combat readiness.
The reasons for Beijing’s heightened alert are multifaceted. There’s economic strain, tense relations with the West, and mysterious shifts in the political hierarchy. Changes like the sudden removal of China’s foreign minister and two top generals in July have sent ripples of unease.
Recent amendments to China’s anti-espionage law have expanded its net, casting suspicion on even mundane activities. As an incentive, rewards in tens of thousands are promised to those who report espionage activities.
However, the landscape isn’t black and white. While some claims of spying have been corroborated with the arrest of spies, others, like the detention of an American citizen and the arrest of a prominent Chinese editor, seem murky, with charges being called “trumped up” by their families.
Reflecting on this heightened scrutiny, Professor Chen Jian of New York University said, “It’s reminiscent of the broad campaigns of Mao Zedong’s era, like the Cultural Revolution, when people were encouraged to report even family members.”
Yet, Chen also noted that today’s Chinese society, having modernized, won’t be easily pushed into mass paranoia. Nevertheless, the omnipresent calls for vigilance have left an undeniable mark. Videos on high-speed trains warn passengers about the dangers of social media photography, and posters in government offices promote a “people’s defensive line.”
It isn’t just adults under the watchful eye. The youth, after having protested China’s strict Covid policies, are now under even greater scrutiny. They are seen as easily influenced by external forces, a perspective pushed by academics like Professor Han Na from People’s Public Security University. “Some are spies, others are special ops. They live among us, and are our current problem,” she remarked.
China’s solution? Equip the youth with the tools to be ever-vigilant. National security education has ramped up, and university students are actively encouraged to report suspicious activities. But this same sense of vigilance has made these students wary, knowing that their own actions and affiliations are being monitored closely.
The aftermath of this campaign seems to cast any connection to foreigners in suspicious light, causing academics to avoid meetings with foreigners, and even foreign musical performances to be canceled. While no clear directive has been issued, the contradictory signals have businesses on edge.
Yet, amid this cloud of suspicion, there are voices of skepticism and humor. When an airport in Hunan banned Teslas, citing potential spying concerns, some humorously inquired if Boeing jets should meet the same fate.
But the overarching sentiment, as expressed by the Global Times, is stern: “If you haven’t done anything wrong, why are you so scared?”
Welcome to communist totalitarian rule.