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A National Hotline Encourages Chinese to Report Suspected Spies

A comic describing spies stealing national security for money. Image from Weibo.

A comic describing spies stealing national security for money. Image from Weibo.

On the anniversary of the passage of a counter-espionage law in China, the National Security Bureau of the northeast province Jilin launched a national hotline — 12339 — for ordinary people to report those suspected of endangering national security.

Local hotlines have been set up in other provinces since the the counter-espionage law was approved on November 1, 2014, but the establishment of national hotline could imply the central government's endorsement of a countrywide witch hunt for “spies”.

Yet, according to news reports, the national hotline was set up by a provincial national security bureau rather than directly by central authorities. It raises a few questions. If the decision was not made by Beijing, why was the news of the national hotline promoted on major news portals which are all under the Chinese Communist Party's control? Does the provincial national security bureau have the power to run a hotline without the approval of central authorities?

Chinese netizens, for their part, looked beyond the technical aspects of the politics involved. They wondered, can ordinary people really identify a spy?

‘Big brother watching you in the streets’

The majority didn't seem to think so. Others theorized that the hotline is simply a mechanism to sow the seeds of distrust among people or even encourage people to attack each other, like what happened during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, when Chairman Mao led a violent campaign to rid society of those deemed anti-communist. In a news thread within the headlines section of popular Chinese social media site Weibo, some referred to the situation as “white terror”, a tactic to instigate fear and keep people in silence:

欲加之罪何患无辞

It is so easy to find an excuse to put someone in jail.

文革的前奏

Prelude to the Cultural Revolution

白色恐怖,道路以目!鼓励告密,人心惶失!

White terror, big brother watching you in the streets. Encourage reporting on each others to threaten people.

Some offered up satirical remarks:

总感觉城管是间谍。国外敌对势力派来欺压老百姓的!同意的点赞

I have a feeling that the chengguan (City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau) are spies, they were sent by foreign enemy forces to suppress ordinary people! Click “like” if you agree.

这还需要举报吗?中央委员以上除了习近平李克强其他都是嫌疑人

Do we still need to report? Apart from [President] Xi Jinping and [Premier] Li Keqiang, all Chinese Communist Party Central Committee members are suspects.

最该被举报的是计生部门,妄图灭我大汉

Should report on the Birth Planning Department, it attempted to make the Han race go extinct [by killing so many unborn with the One-Child Policy].

我是间谍,求人举报。

I am spy, anyone going to report me?

‘What really harms this country is corruption’

However, some people expressed their support for the reporting system. A post on “How to identify spy around you”, published by an Internet analyst with the anonymous screen name “Between coming and going”, went viral on major social media platforms, including Weibo and WeChat:

12339间谍行为举报电话开通,请各位留意身边的各种可疑人员,包括但不限于为外国服务的间谍、内奸、策反人员、情报员、外围代理人等。分辨方式可参考以下信息:

1,工作性质模糊,身兼多职头衔众多且资金充裕的人。
2,在聚会活动中喜欢抛出争议性话题引起争论并暗中观察的人。这样的人往往会根据他人在争论中的表现,与其进一步取得联系,进而渗透策反活动。
3,驻外、涉外记者,家庭式传教人员,部分NGO组织成员。
4,按照名片信息,有正当工作,却上班时间不规律,对名片信息进行核查发现为空壳公司或新公司,及其他信息可疑的人。
5,拥有多国留学经历的留学生,或有跟年龄极不匹配的留学经历的人。
6,经常关心并向身边的人询问敏感问题,不限于政治、军事、舆论、商业等范围的人。
7,定期会去某些地方见人,交换物品或文件。
8,经常参与各类学术研讨会、商业会议,常抛出反动言论,并夸大外国好处的人。

The hotline for reporting spies, 12339, has been launched. Please pay attention to suspicious people around you, including and not limited to spies, traitors, instigators, informants and foreign agents. The description below can help you identify [a suspect]:
1. Nature of their work isn't clear; has several job titles and is resourceful.
2. Those who like to put forward controversial issues and observe others’ response in gatherings. They would then make contact according to an individual's stance and solicit him or her for anti-government activities.
3. Overseas correspondents and reporters, or journalists with overseas connection; members of family churches; some NGO organizers.
4. The person has a proper job on their name card, but their working hours are irregular. The company on their name card is a shell or a newly registered company or has other suspicious traits.
5. Those who studied overseas several times, or his or her age does not match his overseas educational background.
6. Those who pay attention to sensitive topics, including but not limited to politics, military affairs, public opinion or business.
7. Those who travel to meet certain people and exchange packages or documents with them.
8. Those who attend academic conferences and business meetings regularly, talk about anti-government issues and exaggerate the advantages of foreign countries.

Yang Hengjun, a prominent current affairs commentator and a former Chinese government official who has migrated to Australia, saw the above message online and criticized it as encouraging a witch hunt:

真正的间谍与情报策反人员不可能带着以上特征在中国活动,文革中就是靠这些类似的特征“抓间谍”,结果大家都知道。可对照这些特征,我反而发现一些热中于国家大事与国际事务的知识分子、网络意见领袖、公知与活跃网民,更具有“可疑的间谍特征”,公布电话与这些人的特征,是要干啥?真要让中国回到道路以目的时代?

The real spies and instigators would not have the above characteristics. On the other hand, during the Culture Revolution, such traits were used to take down spies. Everyone knows what the result of that was. According to these traits, intellectuals who are familiar with China and international affairs, online opinion leaders, public intellectuals and active netizens would fit in the profile. What the point of setting up the hotline and publicizing such profiling? You really want to return to the time when big brother was watching you on every street corner?

据我所知道,真正危害国家安全与国家利益的贪污腐败如此盛行,几乎我们每个人身边都有,甚至都多少受到过损害,可并没有如此方便的举报电话公布出来,更不用说告诉我们“可疑特征”了,而这些年,对中国的危害反而不那么明显的“间谍”倒成了热点。且不说“抓间谍”是很专业的国家强力部门的工作,普通人除非有了一些疑虑和确凿的证据,否则不应该动不动就举报他人——谁都知道,一旦沾上“间谍”嫌疑,相关部门不会给洗刷,往往让你受害很久

As far as I know, what really harms this country is corruption, and we are surrounded by it. Some of us have even been hurt. But there isn't any hotline for corruption announced with such fanfare. No one tells us how to profile the corrupt, but instead “spies” are the hot issue now. Let's put aside the fact that the identification of spies should be conducted by powerful government authorities. For ordinary people, unless they have concrete evidence, they should not report others. Everyone knows the authorities wouldn't lift a finger to clear a person's name after they were labeled a “spy”; on the other hand, the label is meant to torture the person for a lengthy period of time.

Wang pointed out that he actually fits the profile and invited others to report him:

我发现我倒是符合上面每一条。也罢,你们直接举报我吧,反正,作为一个作家,现在写什么都敏感,贴什么都屏蔽,老子都没法活了,还不如进去,有房住有饭吃,搞不好还能领奖呢。

Turns out that I fit the description entirely. Well, you can just report me. As a writer, everything becomes sensitive to write about. All posts are censored completely. I can't live like that anymore. It's better to live in jail, where you have food and a place to stay. Very likely I could win some awards [referring to overseas human right awards].

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