China’s first counter-terrorism bill, passed last Sunday along with the highly anticipated two-child policy and law against domestic violence, sounds constructive in name. Unfortunately, the new legislation poses a severe threat to the privacy of citizens, and has sparked criticism from human rights groups, tech companies and, ironically, the US government.
While the initial version of the law, presented earlier this year, would have required technology companies in China to store their data locally and share encryption codes with authorities, the actual law has been watered down a bit. Yet it still aggressively demands companies to provide “technical support and assistance, including decryption, to police and national security authorities in prevention and investigation of terrorist activities,” as stated by Xinhua. Foreign tech firms may also be required to help out with the snooping.
The real problem with the new law, according to human rights groups, is the breadth of its definition of terror. The Chinese government describes it as “any proposition or action that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations, with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”
Many worry that China’s vague definition will enable it to target ethnic minority groups on the mainland, especially the Uyghurs of Xinjiang province. A Muslim ethnic group that has been responsible for violent activities in China – including the 2014 attack on a train station in Kunming, Yunnan – Uyghurs have pursued a strong separatist movement for years.
Last week, terror threats were directed at Beijing’s Sanlitun area, causing the US, UK and French embassies to issue warnings to their citizens. It’s still unclear whether the threats had anything to do with separatist Uyghur groups, however.
In recent months, the Chinese government has attempted to draw a connection between Uyghur activities and international jihadist movements, according to Joshua Keating of Slate, but evidence of such ties remains limited.
The anti-terrorism bill will also allow China to fight terrorists overseas, ending its historic non-intervention approach to international affairs.
So far, the world’s newest rising power looks all too similar to the last.