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China Warns Citizens: Beware 'Good Looking' Foreigners Who May Be Spies

Chinese state media kicked off a campaign titled "Dangerous Love," which tells the tale — in cartoons — of a young foreigner named David charming a Chinese civil servant named Little Li in an effort to get access to her classified documents.

by Tess Owen
Apr 19 2016, 4:00pm


China has kicked off a new campaign to raise public awareness about state security following China's first ever "national security education day" last Friday.

One part of the campaign is titled "Dangerous Love," which seeks to warn Chinese citizens about the possible danger of trusting good-looking strangers who may have hidden agendas. Cartoons released in conjunction with the campaign tell the tale of "Little Li" — a young Chinese civil servant who meets "David", a bespectacled red-headed man, at a dinner party.

David, who is actually a spy working for a foreign government, seduces Li by plying her with compliments and flowers.

The relationship escalates, and Li, for some reason, agrees to take David to her government office and show him all the classified documents that she has access to.

Both Li and David are arrested. The final panel shows Li with handcuffs on, as two police scold her, saying she has a "shallow understanding of secrecy for a state employee."

The campaign reflects Chinese president Xi Jinping's ramped-up efforts to tighten the ruling party's grip on the country amid rapid development and access to outside information, especially online. Last year, China's legislature passed a controversial national security law which tightened government control over the internet. Zhang Xuezhong, a lawyer and former professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, told the BBC that the law was an "ideological declaration" which would allow "more cultural censorship and a crackdown on dissidents."

The campaign coincides with an announcement by Chinese state media that a Chinese man was sentenced to death for leaking over 150,000 documents containing state secrets to an unidentified "foreign spy organization."

Huang Yu — a computer technician and encryption expert from Sichuan — worked for a government agency and handled classified information on a daily basis. A report published by Chinese state media portrayed Huang as a disgruntled employee who became bitter after being fired from his position.

Blood boiling, the report alleges, Huang, 41, made contact with foreign agencies over the internet and offered to sell documents containing details on a range of topics, such as the Chinese economy, military secrets, and the inner workings of the ruling Communist party.

He finally met with his contacts a number of times in parts of southeast Asia and Hong Kong, and handed over the trove of 150,000 documents. The report also alleges that when his supply of undisclosed documents ran low, he implored his brother-in-law and wife — who also worked in government agencies — to help him by handing over more classified material. CCTV says Huang received $700,000 for providing the documents between 2002 and 2011.

State television said he was arrested in 2011, when authorities became suspicious of his sudden wealth despite his unemployment and frequent travel. However, the report contained no details of what happened after his arrest — when he was tried, when he was sentenced to death, or if the execution had already happened

Related: US Navy Officer Faces Accusations of Spying for China and Taiwan

In 2014, Chinese state media announced that an individual who leaked classified military documents and photographs to an unidentified foreign spy was sentenced to ten-years in prison. He or she were approached by a foreign intelligence agency via a "popular social media platform," state media said.

The notoriously broad state secrets law has been a fundamental tenet of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since its inception in 1949. Current law covers everything from meteorological data, industry data, and the precise birth dates of state officials.

Experts say that renewed efforts to tighten control over the country is in response to an increasingly disaffected work force and fears of an impending economic slump, among other factors.

China continues to be the most prolific executioner of its own citizens in the world, according to watchdog groups like the Dia Hua Foundation. While their execution data is not publicly available, Dia Hua estimates there were around 2,400 executions in 2013 — the most recent data the group has published, and a relatively low figure compared to the 12,000 executions in 2002.

China's efforts to rein in those numbers and reform the criminal justice system in 2007 granted the Supreme People's Court the authority to review death sentences on a case by case basis. Still, defendants on death row are often executed for nonviolent crimes, Dia Hua says, such as drug dealing, illegal fundraising, and espionage. Dia Hua also notes that the data set from 2010 is "unlikely to show a downward trend in capital punishment" and that any previous efforts to scale back the numbers of executions would likely be offset by death sentences handed down during recent anti-terrorism and anti-corruption witch hunts.

Reuters contributed to this report