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China sets up hotline with financial rewards for ‘national security’ tip-offs

China’s ministry of state security has set up a public hotline to encourage people to report each other for threatening “national security,” a broadly defined concept that criminalizes overseas contacts and fund-raising, criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and peaceful political opposition.

A directive dated June 6 provides for both real-name reports and anonymous tip-offs, offering financial rewards from 10,000 yuan to more than 100,000 yuan, depending on the quality and importance of the “information.”

While it didn’t define the sort of tip-offs the hotline wants to receive, the directive said the move was “according to” the current national security law, which criminalizes words and deeds deemed separatist, terrorist, seditious or to be evidence of “collusion with a foreign power.”

In Hong Kong, where the CCP imposed a national security law from July 1, 2020, dozens of former opposition lawmakers, democracy activists, pro-democracy journalists and civic organizations including unions and rights groups have been targeted under the law.

Hong Kong also offers a tip-off line for reporting words and deeds under the law, although many arrests have followed public denunciation by CCP-backed media.

Citizens can dial in their reports verbally by phone, file them directly to the state security police website, report in person, or write letters, the directive said.

It also required state security police to take further action via propaganda departments, broadcasters, traditional media and social media platforms to “increase citizens’ enthusiasm and initiative when it comes to reporting acts endangering national security.”

No rewards will be given for information that turns out to be inaccurate, nor to anyone who already has a statutory duty to investigate such matters, it said.

Political control

Chinese political scientist Chen Daoyin said that while “espionage” was the ostensible target of national security legislation and call for tip-offs, the move was more about domestic political control.

“This document is more aimed at tightening internal controls,” Chen told RFA. “We have been seeing a lot of popular resistance to disease control and prevention measures in Shanghai, which has been different from Wuhan, Shenzhen, Xi’an and even Beijing.”

“These measures can be said to reflect a sense of insecurity among those in power,” he said.

“The point of the directive is to encourage people to struggle against each other and report each other, strengthen the stability of the regime, and securing the CCP’s grip on power,” Chen said.

Feng Chongyi, associate professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the move likely indicates a renewed drive towards greater totalitarian social control ahead of the CCP’s 20th National Congress later this year.

“Xi Jinping wants to take China backwards from being a post-totalitarian society to a totalitarian dictatorship again, ahead of the 20th Party Congress,” Feng told RFA.

He said people were less obedient than they were during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), however.

Hong Kong police followed suit on Wednesday, giving the city’s existing national security hotline an upgrade with financial rewards, trying to repackage it as an “anti-terrorism” hotline, to encourage more people to report others via phone, text or WeChat.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui said the move was unprecedented in Hong Kong, and signaled that the city is turning into a police state.

“The police already have various means at their disposal, like intercepting communications and online monitoring, and they keep increasing staff numbers in the counter-terrorism department,” Hui said. “Wages and staffing levels are also rising across the police force as a whole.”

“It’s clear that Hong Kong has become a police state, a city run by cops, which is going too far.”

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.