China targets web control with new security law

China targets web control with new security law
China expanded its legal reach over the Internet and even outer space with the passing of a new security law.
PHOTO: Reuters

BEIJING - China passed a wide-ranging new national security law Wednesday, expanding its legal reach over the Internet and even outer space as concerns grow about ever-tighter limits on rights.

Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power, the ruling Communist Party has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on activists, while unrest related to the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang has worsened and spread.

"China's national security situation has become increasingly severe," said Zheng Shuna, a senior official at the National People's Congress (NPC), the rubber-stamp parliament.

China was under pressure to maintain national sovereignty and at the same time handle "political security and social security, while dealing with internal society," she said.

It would "not leave any room for disputes, compromises or interference" when protecting its core interests, she added.

The standing committee of the NPC passed the law by 154 votes to nil with one abstention, officials at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing said.

It will come into force later on Wednesday when Xi signs it, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The legislation was both wide-ranging and couched in general terms, with few exact details such as sentences for violators.

The practice, which leaves the authorities ample room for interpretation, is common in China, with the government issuing detailed regulations later.

The law vows to "protect people's fundamental interests," Xinhua said, including "sovereignty, unification, territorial integrity ... (and) sustainable development."

It declares both cyberspace and outer space to be part of China's national security interests, along with the ocean depths and polar regions, where Beijing has been extending its exploratory activities.

The text requires key Internet and information systems to be "secure and controllable," Xinhua said, potentially raising concerns for foreign technology companies.

The new law has been also criticised by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, whose president Joerg Wuttke said in an emailed statement: "The definitions ... are so extensive in both wording and scope that we are in effect looking at a massive national security overreach.

Campaigners say the draft anti-terror law contains measures for a "non-stop strike hard campaign" in Xinjiang, homeland of the Uighur ethnic minority, signaling that a crackdown initially intended to last one year could continue indefinitely.

China has already rolled out tough measures to confront what it labels "terrorism" in the far-western region.

The new national security legislation does not apply to Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" principle that gives the former British colony wide-ranging autonomy.

But it mentions the territory, along with Macau, and pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker Alan Leong told local broadcaster RTHK it "can be considered as giving pressure to Hong Kong" to enact its own security law.

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