China has drawn attention in recent months for its high profile anti-espionage campaign that has included two criminal cases and several public warnings about the dangers of foreign spies.
Last week the Chinese government sentenced a computer technician, Huang Yu, to death for aiding foreign spies.
The trial came just months after China announced the prosecution of another man, a Canadian who had run a cafe along China’s border with North Korea, for spying and stealing state secrets.
But the sentencing of Huang coincided with China’s first ever National Security Education Day.
Huang, who worked for a technical firm specializing in encryption, was paid more than $700,000 between 2002 and 2011 to pass classified information to an unspecified foreign country, according to CCTV. His mother and brother-in-law were also punished for aiding him.
Huang appeared on CCTV and warned people in China that they if they are spying for foreign forces, they should turn themselves in. "It's better for your family and for you," he said.
William Nee, China researcher for Amnesty International, said Huang’s sentencing, and China’s campaign against espionage, are likely to spur xenophobia.
“To launch it in a big national education campaign, in which they also say that this type of spy is not just like in James Bond films, but these spies could be all around you," Nee said. "You know the CCTV video plays very eerie music, and it’s intended to in some ways stir up a feeling of awareness, but also suspicion about other people, and about foreigners and contact with foreigners."
Last week China also distributed a 16-page comic strip detailing the fictional relationship between a Western red-headed scholar, David, and a Chinese woman, Xiao Li, on public bulletin boards.
After treating her to gifts of flowers, dinners and walks in a park, David asks Xiao to hand over classified documents that he said would help him with his academic research.
After Xiao does so, she is arrested by authorities, and learns that David was a spy.
Beijing, and some Chinese analysts, said such campaigns against espionage are necessary.
“It has legitimacy to safeguard national secrets. If Chinese citizens release these secrets without authorization, then that would undermine China’s national security, and any responsible government should be concerned," said Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University.
But Eva Pils, a legal scholar at King’s College London, said the comic strip and reporting on espionage cases by state news media builds a rationale for China’s clampdown on NGOs, the press and social media.
“I think it helps the government explain the need for ramping up overall state security efforts, that have also included a lot of ramped up repression of civil society,” Pils said.
China debuted a new anti-spy hotline last year, after introducing a new security law aimed at foreign spies and Chinese citizens who help them.