News / Asia

New Chinese Regulations on State Secrets Criticized for Lack of Transparency

Guangdong province, China
Guangdong province, China
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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs