News / Asia

New Chinese Regulations on State Secrets Criticized for Lack of Transparency

Guangdong province, China
Guangdong province, China
TEXT SIZE - +
— The Chinese government has issued new guidance on its infamous state secrets law, used in the past for denying public access to information that could damage the party's image or impact state owned enterprises But observers say the measure does little to clarify what qualifies as a state secret.

China’s state secrets law has long been criticized for stifling information like disease outbreaks and financial data because of confusion over what constitutes a state secret.
 
Because of the law’s vague language, activists say that many officials choose to withhold information rather than releasing it to the public and risking embarrassment or even criminal charges.

Chinese official media reports describe the new provisions as an effort to boost the law’s transparency.

According to the official China Daily, officials "have been told not to label items that should be made public as state secrets."

A call for clarity

But the problem, according to observers, is the new rules do not clarify or clearly define what information should be made public.

Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China, says the regulations do not change the fact that virtually anything can still be classified a state secret like environmental disasters, health pandemics or consumer safety.

"When we get an answer to that and they declassify that information then we can say there has been some real progress in transparency and access to information.  But right now, it's a big question mark," she said.

China classifies seven types of state secrets, ranging from information about major policy decisions to science and technology or military affairs.

Documents that are off limits to the public are expected to be identified clearly so that those who decide to divulge information know the risks.

But Hom says that is not how the law is enforced.

“We documented 42 cases where it's clear that it was not a state secret at the time the person disclosed it or transmitted or given it to somebody else, it became state secret when it was determined that its disclosure caused harm," she said.

Analysts say authorities have long relied on the law's vague wording to encourage self-censorship and stifle dissent.  China legal scholar Stanley Lubman says that has led authorities to value the secrecy law an important tool for maintaining stability, because it gives them great discretion over when to prosecute alleged offenders.

"The emphasis on stability is a given, it has not softened at all that I can see.  And I think given the sources of instability and the slowness with which reform is going to be carried out, the party leadership at the local level as well is going to continue to be very concerned, very anxious about instability," he said.

Over the years prosecutions have targeted journalists like Shi Tao, who passed minutes of an editorial meeting to an overseas website.  Or academics like Xu Zerong, who in 1992 was accused of photo copying military documents from the Korean War.

State secrets can be the number of executions the government carries out, information about labor and land disputes, or as China's environmental ministry said last year, survey findings on soil pollution.

Data about the economy can also be risky.

In 2009, an Australian executive from mining firm Rio Tinto was detained under China's state secret laws.  He was accused of stealing information about China's ore price during business negotiations.

More recently, Beijing classified as state secrets the audit documents of Chinese companies charged with fraud in the United States. As a result, the China-based offices of major American accounting firms refused to hand over the auditing papers to U.S. authorities and were suspended from practicing in the United States.

Moving forward

With the new regulations, government agencies are expected to clarify what information under their authority is classified a secret.

It remains unclear when officials will make those determinations, but Stanley Lubman says that because Xi Jinping's administration is emphasizing legal reforms, it could be within a year.

"There is recent consciousness of the need to stick to the law. How serious that is and at what level that is impossible to say.  But I would say there is somewhat more pressure on the bureaucracy not to apply the law blatantly in violation of outstanding principles," he said.

The new regulations come into effect on March 1.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
February 07, 2014 3:55 PM
The CCP uses the state secrets law to censor the media, muzzle journalists, and silence dissidents. It's about information control. The law violates the PRC Constitution but since when has the Constitution been an obstable for the CCP? It's easy to do anything you want when one party controls the courts, the police, the govt & the military.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid