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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid