The Chinese central government has released the highly anticipated Third Plenum communique, a summary of the plans that the country’s leadership will be tackling in following years. Standing out among pages of clichés is the birth of China’s NSA equivalent – the state security committee.
It’s probably the most significant outcome of the Third Plenum so far, and is one that unnerves many Chinese netizens. The goal of the committee is to synthesize resources from national security, the military, economic development and foreign affairs to improve social governance. More importantly, the committee will be led by China’s current president Xi Jinping, which makes him the most powerful leader after Mao.
“Why some people are concerned about the setup of state security committee? Deep down, it’s because China’s leadership typically mixes state security with security of the ruling government. Most of the time, security of the ruling government is spruced up as national security. What is designed to guard against foreign forces is used on ordinary citizens. The army is one example. If the state security committee follows the same model, then it’s right to concern about it.” Netizen 作家金满楼 explained.
Most netizens have the same question of whether the committee is for “external or internal uses”: “Is it to safeguard national security or to maintain stability?” Maintaining stability to build a harmonious society, as a national policy, was first announced by China’s former president Hu Jintao. The result? Chinese netizens had it very well summarized: “The more the government tries to maintain stability, the more unstable the society becomes.”
Many view the new state security agency as an upgrade of China’s existing stability-maintaining forces. One netizen 新城行者 commented: “My first reaction is that this will mean more crackdowns on the people.” Another netizen ICIPIQ统统告诉我密码 added: “China doesn’t have many external threats. But ‘mass incidents” by the people are real threats to the ruling party. So there you go!”
Such government agency isn’t new in China’s history. Many liken the committee to the imperial secret police of the Ming Dynasty, the Jinyiwei. As a national security agency at the time, Jinyiwei had the authority to overrule judicial proceedings in arresting, interrogating and prosecuting anyone in the country – they took direct orders from the emperor. The organization was also responsible of collecting intelligence on enemies during war. Some are even reminded of Dongchang and Xichang, domestic spy agencies in charge of monitoring all civilians’ actions and words for potential treason in Ming Dynasty.
All of these institutes share one thing is common, that is, they are built to consolidate the power of the emperor, not to benefit the people or the country.