China’s anti-terror law: Security step or control tactic?

China anti-terror law

Against the backdrop of increased threat perception from the scourge of home-grown and global militancy, China has passed its first counterterrorism law in the history of the country, which is seen by some as a hidden strategy for enhancing surveillance of the people of the country.

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) unanimously voted for the ant-terror legislation on December 27. The law aims to deal with terrorism at home and maintain world security. The law, argue some analysts, gives the government of China unlimited censorship powers and authorised state access to commercial data.

The law will provide the Chinese military and police forces the authority to conduct anti-terror operations overseas as well. The law goes against the initial Chinese policy of “non intervention” in the international arena.

Placing the new anti-terror law in context, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted an official who highlighted growing terror attacks in China. “Terrorist attacks have caused heavy losses of people’s lives and properties, posing a serious threat to our security, stability, economic development and ethnic unity,” Xinhua said. Terrorism, according to Xinhua, is “defined as any proposition or activity — 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.”

This definition of terrorism is seen by many analysts as ambiguous and diffuse, thereby giving the Chinese government sweeping powers to prosecute people in the name of anti-terror action.

China initially took an initiative to draft the law in 2011, in light of the rise in terrorist activities at home. From the Chinese viewpoint, the law will safeguard the citizens and prevent social instability which may pose a threat to the country. Through this law they will be able to monitor the activities of people and take preventive measures.

China blames the “extremists” and “separatists” from the Muslim Uighur ethnic community for a series of attacks in the last couple of years. This community is a Turkic ethnic minority, largely comprising of Sunni Muslims, who feel that their religion and culture is being swamped due to an influx of Han ethnic migrants.

There was an attack this year when an unidentified group of knife-wielding men attacked workers at coal mine killing 50 people. Similarly, last year in March, Uighur assailants used knives to slash to death 29 people at a train station in Kunming.

Under the new law, telecommunication and internet service providers would be mandated to install government–accessible boxes and provide encryption keys to public security authorities for data stored in their servers. This would entail providing access to personal chat logs and emails of people.

(Rubaina Sangha contributed inputs to this article)

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