Top of page

Article China: Counterespionage Law Revised

On April 26, 2023, the revised Counterespionage Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s major legislature, and became effective on July 1. Compared with the previous version, effective since the end of 2014, the new version enlarges the government’s authority to combat espionage and stresses the public’s role in this task.

Expanded Scope of Espionage Activities 

The enumeration of espionage activities has been moved from the old law’s final chapter, “Supplementary Provisions,” to the revised law’s first chapter, “General Provisions,” and has been extended to include, inter alia:

  • “[A]ligning with espionage organizations or their agents.” (Art. 4, para.1(2).)

  • “Stealing, prying into, purchasing, or illegally providing … other documents, data, materials, or items related to national security and interests …” (newly added words italicized) in addition to “state secrets” and “[state] intelligence.” (Art. 4, para. 1(3).)

The United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center notes that because the terms in such an expanded concept of espionage are not defined, “[a]ny documents, data, materials, or items could be considered relevant to PRC national security due to ambiguities in the law,” and therefore, the law has the “[p]otential to create legal risks or uncertainty for foreign companies, journalists, academics, and researchers.” China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), which is in charge of civilian intelligence, national security, and secret police, countered that this newly added provision targets only “illegal acts,” not businesses that obey the laws of the PRC and provide normal services; actually offers a clear direction to foreign actors in the PRC as to what is legal and what is not; and follows a practice common to many countries.

  • “Cyberattacks, intrusions, disruptions, control, or destruction targeting state agencies, units involved with secrets, or critical information infrastructure …” (art. 4, para. 1(4)), which means that from now on, cyberwarfare is included in the espionage category.

The updated law also expands its application to espionage against a third country conducted by espionage organizations or their agents either inside the PRC or using the PRC’s citizens, organizations, or other conditions. (Art. 4, para. 2.)

Public Participation in Counterespionage

The revised law is dedicated to raising public awareness of espionage risks, thus preventing spying at an early stage. It explicitly requires all citizens and organizations to support and assist the government’s counterespionage work (art. 8), and stipulates that all organizations in the country must bear major responsibility for their share of the counterespionage work (art. 12, para. 1), the failure to do which may incur severe consequences for both the organizations and the persons in charge of them (art. 56). In addition, it mandates that mass media, such as news outlets, broadcasts, and the internet, “carry out targeted publicity and education on counterespionage.” (Art. 13.)

Law Enforcement’s Power

The new law expands the toolbox of the national security agencies (including the MSS and provincial and local agencies under its leadership) to investigate espionage-related matters. For example:

  • Article 27 empowers national security agents to summon persons who violate this law and to question them for up to eight hours. This time limit may be extended to up to 24 hours in complicated cases where administrative detention may be applied or a crime is suspected. It also prescribes that necessary foods, drinks, and rest time be provided for such persons.
  • Article 29 vests in the national security agency the power to gain access to information on espionage suspects’ property under certain conditions.
  • Articles 33–35 authorize the implementation of exit and entry bans. The MSS can prevent PRC citizens who may endanger national security or cause severe harm to national interests from going abroad. (Art. 33, para. 1.) Espionage suspects can be barred from exiting the PRC by order of national security agencies at the provincial level or higher. (Art. 33, para. 2.) This provision applies to foreigners as well. The MSS can also forbid persons outside the PRC who may engage in activities harmful to national security from entering the country. (Art. 34.)

Prepared by Yuechao Nie, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist

September 22, 2023

Read more Global Legal Monitor articles.

About this Item

Title

  • China: Counterespionage Law Revised

Online Format

  • web page

Rights & Access

Publications of the Library of Congress are works of the United States Government as defined in the United States Code 17 U.S.C. §105 and therefore are not subject to copyright and are free to use and reuse.  The Library of Congress has no objection to the international use and reuse of Library U.S. Government works on loc.gov. These works are also available for worldwide use and reuse under CC0 1.0 Universal. 

More about Copyright and other Restrictions.

For guidance about compiling full citations consult Citing Primary Sources.

Credit Line: Law Library of Congress

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Zhang, Laney. China: Counterespionage Law Revised. 2023. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2023-09-21/china-counterespionage-law-revised/.

APA citation style:

Zhang, L. (2023) China: Counterespionage Law Revised. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2023-09-21/china-counterespionage-law-revised/.

MLA citation style:

Zhang, Laney. China: Counterespionage Law Revised. 2023. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2023-09-21/china-counterespionage-law-revised/>.