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Back to Legal Provisions on Fighting Extremism

Summary

China has not passed a comprehensive counterterrorism law. Counterterrorism provisions are mainly found in the Criminal Law and State Security Law. However, these laws do not provide a clear definition of “terrorism” or address extremism. In 2011, the country’s top legislative body for the first time clearly defined the term “terrorist activities.”

Domestically, extremism is more a politicized notion appearing in government instruments than a precisely defined legal term. In these instruments, extremism is linked with terrorism and separatism, which are rhetorically expressed as the “Three Forces” of “ethnic separatist forces, violent terrorist forces, and religious extremist forces.” Extremism is addressed in very limited domestic legislation.

China has entered into the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, which provides a definition of “extremism” and requires that acts of extremism be criminally prosecuted in conformity with the national laws of the parties.

I.  Background and Constitution

China does not have an anti-extremism law comparable to that of Russia and Tajikistan.  A definition of “extremism” has not been found in domestic legislation, although the concept, as well as those of terrorism and separatism, are specifically defined by multilateral and bilateral treaties that China has entered into.  Domestically, extremism is more a politicized notion appearing in government instruments than a precisely defined legal term. 

Although counterterrorism provisions can be found in the Criminal Law and in a handful of other national laws such as the State Security Law, the country has not passed a comprehensive counterterrorism law; nor has “terrorism” been clearly defined by these laws.  The government asserts it is premature to pass a single counterterrorism law.  Instead, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislative body, issued a decision in October 2011 specifically providing definitions of “terrorist organization,” “terrorism,” and “terrorist.”[1]  

The Chinese Constitution does not directly address extremism or terrorism.  It contains, however, the following articles regarding “disruption of the social system,” ethnic groups, and using religion to disrupt public order:

Article 1.  The socialist system is the basic system of the People’s Republic of China. Disruption of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited.

Article 4.  Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic groups are prohibited; any act which undermines the unity of the ethnic groups or instigates division is prohibited.

Article 36.  No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the State.[2]

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II.  Counterterrorism Legislation

A.  Criminal Law

As a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, China issued amendment III to its Criminal Law on December 29, 2001.[3]  According to the NPC, the purposes of the amendment are “to punish the crimes of terrorism, to safeguard the security of the State and of people’s lives and property, and maintain public order.”[4] 

Amendment III of the Criminal Law focused on articles addressing terrorist crimes and other crimes believed to endanger public security.  The relevant punishments were increased and new provisions added.  Most of the articles modified by Amendment III are under a chapter titled “Crimes of Endangering Public Security”—in particular article 120 addressing the crimes of organizing, leading, and participating in terrorist organizations.  These articles have become the primary counterterrorism provisions in Chinese law. 

The newly revised article 120 provides as follows:

Whoever forms or leads a terrorist organization shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years or life imprisonment; persons who actively participate in a terrorist organization shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 3 years but not more than 10 years; other participants shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than 3 years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights.[5]

Pursuant to Amendment III, a new sub-article 120a on funding terrorist organizations and individuals has been added to article 120 and provides:

Whoever provides funds to any terrorist organization or individual who engages in terrorism shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights, and shall also be fined; if the circumstances are serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years, and he shall also be fined or his property shall be confiscated. Where a unit commits the crime mentioned in the preceding paragraph, it shall be fined, and the persons who are directly in charge and the other persons who are directly responsible for the offence shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the preceding paragraph.[6]

The Criminal Law (including Amendment III), however, does not provide clear definitions of “terrorist organization” or “terrorism,” nor does it specifically address extremism.

B.  State Security Law

The State Security Law, another source of China’s counterterrorism law, lists acts that are deemed to endanger state security in article 4, stating as follows:

“Act endangering state security” as referred to in this Law means any of the following acts endangering the state security of the People’s Republic of China committed by institutions, organizations or individuals outside the territory of the People’s Republic of China, or, by other persons under the instigation or financial support of the aforementioned institutions, organizations or individuals, or, by organizations or individuals within the territory in collusion with institutions, organizations or individuals outside the territory:

(1) plotting to subvert the government, dismember the State or overthrow the socialist system;

(2) joining an espionage organization or accepting a mission assigned by an espionage organization or by its agent;

(3) stealing, secretly gathering, buying, or unlawfully providing state secrets;

(4) instigating, luring or bribing a State functionary to turn traitor; or

(5) committing any other act of sabotage endangering state security.[7]

Terrorism is not expressly listed in the Law as one of these acts; however, the Implementation Rules of the State Security Law interpret the article 4 as encompassing terrorist activities.  According to the Implementation Rules, “organizing, plotting or committing terrorist acts endangering the State security” falls into “any other act of sabotage endangering state security,” referred to in article 4(5) of the State Security Law.[8]  Like the Criminal Law, the State Security Law and its implementation rules do not provide a clear definition of “terrorist acts.”

C.  NPC Standing Committee Counter terrorism Decision

According to a statement posted on the NPC official website regarding the development of China’s counterterrorism law system, there was previously no clear and precise definition of “terrorist organizations,” “terrorist activities,” or “terrorists” provided in domestic law, and the lack of clear definitions hampered China’s cooperation with international counterterrorism efforts.[9]  The NPC filled this gap in 2011.

On October 29, 2011, the NPC Standing Committee passed the Decision on Issues Related to Strengthening Counterterrorism Work, which clarifies the definitions of “terrorist activities,” “terrorist organizations,” and “terrorist.”[10]  In the Decision, “terrorist activities” are defined as

[a]ctivities that severely endanger society that have the goal of creating terror in society, endangering public security, or threatening state organs and international organizations and which, by the use of violence, sabotage, intimidation, and other methods, cause or are intended to cause human casualties, great loss to property, damage to public infrastructure, and chaos in the social order, as well as activities that incite, finance, or assist the implementation of the above activities through any other means.[11]

“Terrorist organizations” are defined as criminal organizations established for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities.  “Terrorists” are those who organize, plan, and carry out terrorist activities or are members of any terrorist organizations.[12]

The Decision also provides the procedure for developing lists of terrorist organizations and terrorists: a leading State counterterrorism task force is to be established, which will decide on and adjust the lists, and such lists will then be published by the State Council public security department (i.e., the Ministry of Public Security).[13]

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III.  Domestic References to Extremism

Despite the fact that the concepts of extremism, terrorism, and separatism are defined by multilateral and bilateral treaties that China has entered into (discussed in Part IV of this report), definitions of these concepts have not been found in domestic legislation.  A 2011 White Paper issued by the nongovernmental organization Human Rights in China (HRIC) discussing the impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on counterterrorism and human rights indicated that a clear and precise definition of “extremism,” as well “terrorism” and “separatism,” as referred to in the Shanghai Convention, does not exist domestically in China.[14]

A.  Government Statements

Domestically, extremism is more a vague and politicized notion appearing in government instruments than a precisely defined legal term.  In these instruments, extremism is always linked with terrorism and separatism, which are rhetorically expressed as the “Three Forces” of “ethnic separatist forces, violent terrorist forces, and religious extremist forces.”[15]  As indicated by the term “religious extremist forces,” extremism is often found to be connected with religion.[16]  The government statements say that the Three Forces are the same thing by nature, and have been colluding with each other from the very beginning to sabotage social stability.[17]

Furthermore, the Three Forces concept appears to be specifically applied to the groups of “East Turkestan” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and “Free Tibet” in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) (also translated as Xizang Autonomous Region).[18]  This is consistent with the finding of the HRIC White Paper, which asserts that China has applied the concept of the “Three Evils” (the White Paper’s terminology for the “Three Forces”[19]) in particular to the ethnic Uyghur population concentrated in the XUAR.[20]  

The HRIC White Paper found that official Chinese government references to the Three Evils terminology appeared in a national development plan as early as March 15, 2001, prior to the establishment of the SCO in June of that year.[21]  The White Paper states,

[c]hapter 23 of the document, on “Rule by Law, Building a Socialist Country Governed According to Law,” sets out the following priorities: “seriously study the new situations and new issues threatening social stability, correctly handle the inner conflicts among people during the new period, ensure social stability,” and “crack down on ethnic splitting activities, religious extremist forces, violent terrorist activities, cults and illegal activities conducted in the name of religion.”[22]

B.  National Legislation

As discussed above, extremism is often connected with religion in government instruments.  This is also true in the limited legislation containing this concept.  The Regulation on Religious Affairs expressly regulates extremism: when setting out the content that is prohibited from being published in religious publications, the Regulation includes “content which propagates religious extremism.”[23]  The Regulation does not provide a definition of “religious extremism,” however.

Orders of the state radio, film, and television authority have banned content propagating religious extremism.  The Regulation on Broadcasting and Television Administration prohibits radio and television stations from showing programs containing harmful content, including those “endangering the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the country,” “endangering state security,” and “instigating separation or disrupting ethnic solidarity.”[24]  Based on this provision, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) has expressly banned programs advocating religious extremism: pursuant to a SARFT order issued in 2010, television stations are prohibited from showing TV plays “opposing the state’s religious policies, by advocating religious extremism, cults, and superstition; and by discriminating against or insulting religious beliefs.”[25]  Again, a definition of “religious extremism” is not provided by the SARFT order.

C. Local Legislation

At the local level, efforts at fighting against the Three Forces have particularly been found in the local regulations of the XUAR.  The HRIC White Paper asserts that these regulations specific to the XUAR have become a key part of China’s domestic counterterrorism legal framework.[26] 

On December 29, 2009, the Standing Committee of the XUAR People’s Congress amended the XUAR Regulation on the Comprehensive Management of Social Order.  The amendments took effect on February 1, 2010.[27]  The newly amended Regulation identifies acting against crimes endangering state security committed by “ethnic separatist forces, violent terrorist forces, and religious extremist forces” as one of the primary goals of managing social order in the XUAR.[28]  

The TAR also has a set of provisions for managing social order, which emphasize fighting separatism.  In the TAR Regulation on the Comprehensive Management of Social Order, acting against and preventing the crimes of separatism are among the primary goals of social order management in the autonomous region.  Although the TAR Regulation includes provisions strengthening the management of religious activities and places, identifying such management as a primary task, the words “religious extremism” or “terrorism” do not explicitly appear in the text.[29]

In addition, the XUAR promulgated a Regulation on Ethnic Unity Education on December 29, 2009, which includes “opposing ethnic separatist forces, violent terrorist forces, and religious extremist forces” as part of the primary content of ethnic unity education in the XUAR.[30]

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IV.  Extremism in Treaties

Extremism has been defined by the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism (Shanghai Convention).[31]  According to the HRIC White Paper, the SCO approach to counterterrorism is actually modeled on the Three Evils (Three Forces) doctrine advanced by the Chinese government.[32]  The HRIC White Paper quotes the preamble of the Shanghai Convention, which says that the Three Evils are the focus of the Shanghai Convention and that the Convention “recognizes that these phenomena seriously threaten territorial integrity and security of the Parties as well as their political, economic and social stability.”[33]

A.  Extremism in the Shanghai Convention

“Extremism” is defined under the Shanghai Convention as

an act aimed at seizing or keeping power through the use of violence or changing violently the constitutional regime of a State, as well as a violent encroachment upon public security, including organization, for the above purposes, of illegal armed formations and participation in them, criminally prosecuted in conformity with the national laws of the Parties.[34]

The Shanghai Convention also defines “terrorism” and “separatism” as follows:

1)  “terrorism” means:

a.   any act recognized as an offence in one of the treaties listed in the Annex to this Convention (hereinafter referred to as “the Annex”) and as defined in this Treaty;

b.   other act [sic] intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict or to cause major damage to any material facility, as well as to organize, plan, aid and abet such act, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, violate public security or to compel public authorities or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, and prosecuted in accordance with the national laws of the Parties;[35]

2)  “separatism” means any act intended to violate territorial integrity of a State including by annexation of any part of its territory or to disintegrate a State, committed in a violent manner, as well as planning and preparing, and abetting such act, and subject to criminal prosecuting in accordance with the national laws of the Parties[.][36]

Parties to the Shanghai Convention have pledged to cooperate in the areas of prevention, identification, and suppression of terrorist, separatist, and extremist acts.[37]  In their mutual relations, the parties consider these acts to be extraditable offenses.[38] 

B.  Bilateral Agreements on Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism

China has entered into bilateral agreements on combating terrorism, separatism, and extremism with members of the SCO, but not limited to these members.  These agreements adopted the approach of the Shanghai Convention with regard to counterterrorism, to explicitly cover the elements of the Three Forces—terrorism, separatism, and extremism:

  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Kyrgyzstan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Dec. 11, 2002, effective Oct. 1, 2004).[39]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Kazakhstan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Dec. 23, 2002, effective July 3, 2003).[40]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Tajikistan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Sept. 2, 2003, effective Feb. 7, 2006).[41]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Uzbekistan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Sept. 4, 2003, effective Oct. 21, 2004).[42]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Apr. 5, 2005, effective Dec. 12, 2006).[43]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Turkmenistan on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Oct. 31, 2006, effective Feb. 6, 2007).[44]
  • Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and Russian Federation on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism (signed Sept. 27, 2010, effective Dec. 31, 2011). [45]

UPDATE (Jan. 12, 2016): Several legislative acts promulgated in 2015 addressed the issue of extremism.  Among them are the National Security Law, which declares State’s intention to fight extremism, the Ninth Amendment of the Criminal Law, which added extremism-related crimes to article 120 of the Criminal Law governing terrorist crimes, and the Anti-Terrorism Law in effect since January 1, 2016.  The Anti-Terrorism Law defines extremism and sets forth penalties for activities not serious enough to constitute a criminal offense.

Additional information on this topic is available.

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Last Updated April 2014


[1] Zhongguo Zhubu Wanshan Fankong Fazhi Jianshe [China Gradually Establishing Counterterrorism Legal System] (Nov. 29, 2011), National People’s Congress, http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/zgrdzz/2011-11/29/content_1680782. htm, archived at http://perma.cc/CH6W-CFEK.

[2] Xianfa arts. 1, 4, and 36 (1982, last amended Mar. 14, 2004), available in English translation in 2004 Laws of People’s Republic of China 59, 70 (Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC); Beijing, 2005) [hereinafter Laws of China].

[3] Amendment III to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (Order of the President No. 64, Dec. 29, 2001) (Amendment III), 2001 Laws of China 361–65.

[4] Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Xingfa Xiuzheng An San Shiyi [Interpretation of Amendment III to the Criminal Law] (Oct. 20, 2004), National People’s Congress, http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/flsyywd/xingfa/2004-10/20/ content_337787.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/F93X-LH5K.

[5] Amendment III, 2001 Laws of China 361–65.

[6] Id.

[7] Guojia Anquan Fa [State Security Law] (adopted by the NPC Standing Committee on Feb. 22, 1993, effective on the same day), art. 10, 1993 Laws of China 43, 47.

[8] Guojia Anquan Fa Shishi Xize [Implementation Rules of State Security Law] (State Council Order [1994] No. 157, June 4, 1994), Falü Fagui Quanshu [Laws and Regulations of China] 3–179.

[9] NPC, supra note 1.

[10] Shouquan Fabu: Quanguo Renda Changweihui Guanyu Jiaqiang Fankong Gongzuo Youguan Wenti de Jueding [Authorized Publication: Decision on Issues Related to Strengthening Counterterrorism Work] (Oct. 29, 2011), Xinhuanet, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2011-10/29/c_111132865.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/7DCW-VY59.

[11] Id. art. 2.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. art. 4.

[14] HRIC, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization 68 (Mar. 2011) (hereinafter HRIC White Paper), http://www.hrichina.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdfs/2011-hric-sco-whitepaper-full.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/LJ84-W5K7.

[15] See, e.g., He Wei Sangu Shili? [What Are the Three Forces?], Xinhua (July 13, 2009), http://news.xinhuanet. com/politics/2009-07/13/content_11698031.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/4U7P-95KV.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] See, e.g., Zhongguo Fei Chuantong Anquan de Liuda Tiaozhan Zhi Liu: Minzu Fenlie Zhuyi [The Sixth Challenge of the Six Untraditional State Security Challenges: Ethnic Separatism], Xinhua (Aug. 10, 2004), http://news. xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2004-08/10/content_1751936.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/UVE4-K8RE.

[19] The HRIC White Paper refers to the “Three Forces” as the “Three Evils,” and the approach of linking terrorism, separatism, and extremism as coequal targets as the “Three Evils Doctrine.”  HRIC White Paper, supra note 14, at 64.

[20] Id. at 64.

[21] Id. at 67.

[22] Id. (emphasis added).

[23] Zongjiao Shiwu Tiaoli [Regulation on Religious Affairs] (promulgated by the State Council on Nov. 30, 2004, effective Mar. 1, 2005), art. 7(4), Laws and Regulations of China 3-289 (2009) (emphasis added).

[24] Guangbo Dianshi Guanli Tiaoli [Regulation on Broadcasting and Television Administration] (promulgated by the State Council, Aug. 11, 1997, effective Sept. 1, 1997), art. 32, Laws and Regulations of China 3–369 (2009).

[25] Dianshiju Neirong Guanli Guiding [Provisions on the Administration of Contents of TV Plays] (issued by the SARFT, effective July 1, 2010), http://www.sarft.gov.cn/articles/2010/05/19/20100519184943720740.html (in Chinese; emphasis added), archived at http://perma.cc/F5YF-56JW.

[26] HRIC White Paper, supra note 14, at 72.

[27] Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu Shehui Zhi’an Zonghe Zhili Tiaoli [XUAR Regulation on the Comprehensive Management of Social Order] (promulgated Jan. 21, 1994, last amended Dec. 29, 2009, effective Feb. 1, 2010), http://news.ts.cn/content/2010-01/04/content_4685511.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/85B7-F4PH (click “Uploaded page”).

[28] Id. art. 5(1).

[29] Xizang Zizhiqu Shehui Zhi’an Zonghe Zhili Tiaoli [TAR Regulation on the Comprehensive Management of Social Order] (promulgated by the Standing Committee of the TAR People’s Congress, last amended and effective June 6, 2007), available at the online Chinese law database, Chinalawinfo (Chinalawinfo Ref ID: 16935650).

[30] Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhi Qu Minzu Tuanjie Jiaoyu Tiaoli [Regulation on Ethnic Unity Education] (effective Feb. 1, 2010), available at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China website, http://www.cecc.gov/pages/ virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=135701 (last visited Dec. 12, 2012), archived at http://perma.cc/R734-BMHF.

[31] The Shanghai Convention was signed by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai, and entered into force on March 29, 2003.  Shanghai Convention, June 15, 2001, available in English at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/49f5d9f92.pdf (last visited Dec. 12, 2012), archived at http://perma.cc/FY8A-UJUF.  The NPC Standing Committee ratified the Convention on Oct. 27, 2001.  Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui Changwu Weiyuanhui Guanyu Pizhun Daji Kongbu Zhuyi, Fenlie Zhuyi he Jiduan Zhuyi Shanghai Gongyue de Jueding [NPC Standing Committee Decision on Ratifying Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism] (Oct. 27, 2001), National People’s Congress, http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/ content/2001/content_61187.htm (last visited Dec. 12, 2012), archived at http://perma.cc/69S8-FJ6V (click “Uploaded page”).

[32] HRIC White Paper, supra note 14, at 64.

[33] Id. at 41.

[34] Shanghai Convention art. 1(3).

[35] Id. art. 1(1).

[36] Id. art. 1(2).

[37] Id. art. 2.

[38] Id.

[39] Department of Treaty of Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, A Collection of Treaties on Extradition and Agreements on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Secessionism and Extremism 874 (2009) (in Chinese). 

[40] Id. at 898.

[41] Id. at 911.

[42] Id. at 931.

[43] Id. at 948.

[44] Id. at 966.

[45] Quanguo Renda Changweihui Guanyu Pizhun Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo he Eluosi Lianbang Guanyu Daji Kongbu Zhuyi, Fenlie Zhuyi he Jiduan Zhuyi de Hezuo Xieding de Jueding [Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Ratifying the “Agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism”] (Dec. 31, 2011), National People’s Congress, http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/xinwen/2012-01/01/content_1685019.htm, archived at http://perma.cc/3RU5-E48N, text of the Agreement in Chinese, http://www.npc.gov.cn/wxzl/gongbao/2012-03/05/ content_1705030.htm (last visited Dec. 12, 2012), archived at http://perma.cc/95CY-FZH8.

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Last Updated: 01/13/2016