China’s amended Law on “Guarding State Secrets” took effect on Oct.10, 2010. It is part of a broader effort to intensify government control of information flow and to sidestep technological advances. What exactly defines "state secrets" remains vague.
From this amendment, a citizen will be in trouble if his or her private communications "involve" state secrets, while the previous version set "leaking state secrets" as the criterion for violating the law. Law professionals criticize the changes as constraining people further. These changes may be subject to arbitrary interpretation by the authorities.
Public comments about the latest amended Law are not allowed since it falls under the category of legislative projects not appropriate for public's comments. It was circulated only for potential comments within provincial and central governments and excluded comments from legal experts.
Hong Kong-based Open Magazine senior editor Ms. Cai Yongmei told the Voice of America that the amendment constitutes more explicit requirements. They are aimed at and directed to telecommunications operators and Internet service providers, to assist the police and state security departments when investigating the leaking of state secrets.
She added, "Officials are losing control over the population due to technological advances and economic development. They encourage already popular government-sanctioned informants to spy on reporters and bloggers online.”
Arrests or imprisonment of reporters in China is common, charging them with leaking or stealing state secrets. Internet writer Huang Qi was one of them, as was Ching Cheong, the chief Chinese Affairs reporter of the Singapore’s Straits Times; he was accused of espionage. Shi Tao, a reporter for the Hunan Province Contemporary Business News was accused of leaking state secrets. Zhao Yan, a news assistant at the New York Times Beijing office, was charged with divulging state secrets for providing his employer information about former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin’s retirement plan.
Last year four executives, including one Australian citizen, of the Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate Rio Tinto PLC were arrested. The charges: espionage and theft of state secrets. This seemed a convenient retaliation after iron ore price negotiations between the China Steel Association and Rio Tinto failed.
Dr. Cheng Xiaonong, a well-known economist and chief editor of the US-based Contemporary China magazine, commented on the Rio Tinto case, “So far, the Chinese government hasn’t explained what state secrets were leaked, and under what circumstances. The sentencing of accused Rio Tinto employees lacked transparency.”
Li Hongkuan, a USA-based Chinese Internet Service analyst, stated the ratification of this latest amendment is an attempt for the Chinese regime to legitimize its control of Internet information. When democratic nations such as the USA criticize China for blocking free information, the officials then reply, "we are simply abiding by the laws."