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China sees foreign threats ‘everywhere’ as powerful spy agency takes center stage | CNN

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses China's Ministry of State Security (MSS), the country's powerful civilian spy agency, and its efforts to raise its public profile and broaden its remit under President Xi Jinping's leadership. The MSS has been transformed from a shadowy organization into a highly visible presence in public life, using various propaganda tools to warn the Chinese public about the threat of foreign espionage.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The MSS's Transformation

1. What are the key changes the MSS has undergone in recent years?

  • The MSS has drastically raised its public profile and broadened its remit under Xi Jinping's leadership.
  • The MSS has transformed from a shadowy organization without any discernible public face into a highly visible presence in public life.
  • The MSS now uses various propaganda tools, such as posters, slogans, social media, and multimedia content, to warn the Chinese public about the threat of foreign espionage.

2. What are the reasons behind the MSS's increased public presence?

  • The MSS's transformation is part of Xi's sweeping pivot to ramp up national security in the face of heightened geopolitical tensions and mounting domestic challenges.
  • The emphasis on external threats also helps Beijing deflect criticism at home over its own policies by shifting blame onto "foreign forces."
  • The increasing securitization of Chinese life and society under Xi, where "an incredibly wide array of issues can be viewed as threats to national security," has contributed to the MSS's expanding reach.

[02] The MSS's Propaganda and Outreach

1. What are the key messages and tactics used by the MSS in its propaganda and outreach efforts?

  • The MSS produces slick videos, posters, and social media content warning the Chinese public that foreign spies are "everywhere, cunning... and sneaky, and they may be right here in our lives."
  • The MSS claims that foreign spies are infiltrating various sectors, from mapping apps to weather stations, and it has posted details of alleged espionage activities by American and British spy agencies.
  • The MSS has set up a hotline and a website to encourage people to report any suspected threats to state security, and it offers cash rewards for national security tip-offs.

2. How have the public responded to the MSS's propaganda and outreach efforts?

  • The MSS's campaigns have spurred enthusiasm online for catching foreign spies, with influencers and social media users sharing their experiences and tips for identifying suspected spies.
  • However, experts warn that over-encouraging citizens to report on potential security threats can backfire, leading to an abundance of false positives that can have "a really corrosive long-term effect."

[03] Implications for Foreign Businesses

1. How have the MSS's actions affected the international business community in China?

  • The relentless warnings from the MSS and its expanding powers have raised alarms in the international business community, at a time when the Chinese government is trying to woo foreign investment to help revive the slowing economy.
  • The MSS's dramatic videos warning the public about foreign consultancy firms working as a cover for foreign intelligence services risk undermining Beijing's central message that China is trying to lower barriers for foreign business and investment.
  • The ambiguity of the laws and lack of judicial oversight to prevent the security agencies from overreaching have created much uncertainty for foreign companies, leading some to adjust their operations or move potentially controversial work outside of mainland China.

2. How do the conflicting messages from the Chinese government and the MSS affect foreign businesses?

  • The "conflicting messages coming from the top, as well as an unreasonable overemphasis on national security issues that is driving foreign investors away," create a challenging environment for foreign businesses in China.
  • The MSS's actions, driven more by "politics than reality or good common sense," suggest that if development and security appear to conflict, security will take precedence, further fueling concerns among foreign businesses.
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