Monday Briefing: China’s Mobilization Against Espionage

By John Mercury September 4, 2023

China’s ruling Communist Party is enlisting ordinary people to guard against perceived threats to the country, in a campaign that blurs the line between vigilance and paranoia.

China’s Ministry of State Security, a usually covert department that oversees the secret police and intelligence services, opened its first social media account as part of what official news media described as an effort at increasing public engagement. Its first post was a call for a “whole of society mobilization” against espionage.

“The participation of the masses,” the post said, should be “normalized.”

Chinese universities have ordered faculty members to take courses on protecting state secrets, even those who work in departments like veterinary medicine. A kindergarten in the eastern city of Tianjin organized a meeting to teach staff members how to “understand and use” China’s anti-espionage law.

The sense of urgency may be heightened by the country’s worst economic slowdown in years and increasingly tense relations with the West. Unexplained personnel changes at the highest tiers of power suggest that Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian leader, may have feared threats to his control.

Details: In July, China revised its anti-espionage law to broaden an already sweeping scope of activities that it regards as spying, and is offering rewards of tens of thousands of dollars to people who report spies.

History: One expert said the call to mass action bore echoes of the Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao Zedong, a decade-long period of chaos and bloodshed when Chinese leaders urged people to report their teachers, neighbors or families as “counterrevolutionaries.”

Background: For decades, China built guardrails to prevent another Mao Zedong. Here’s how Xi Jinping has dismantled them and created his own machinery of power.

Reznikov won praise for negotiating the transfer of vast quantities of donated Western weaponry and oversaw the expansion of the army and its transition from an arsenal of Soviet-legacy armaments to one of Western systems during the war. But his fate had been the subject of increasing speculation in Ukraine as financial improprieties in the ministry have come to light.

Zelensky said in a statement that Rustem Umerov, the chairman of Ukraine’s State Property Fund, would replace Reznikov, who has not been personally implicated in the investigations into the mishandling of military contracts. Zelensky said he expected Ukraine’s Parliament, which must approve the change, to sign off on his request.

Other war news:

A little over a week after becoming the fourth country to land on the moon, India launched on Saturday its first solar mission aimed at studying the outer layers of the sun.

Aditya L1, as the mission is called, will travel about 930,000 miles over four months, and will continue orbiting for several years. The spacecraft is designed to better understand the dynamics of our local star.

Context: The recent successes of India’s space program parallel the nation’s economic and geopolitical rise, and officials cite them as a manifestation of its strong traditions in science and technology. India’s space research agency has accomplished its goals on a budget much smaller than that of many spacefaring countries.

Turkey’s national women’s volleyball team won the Women’s European Volleyball Championship yesterday. As members of the world’s top-ranked team, Turkey’s players, nicknamed the “Sultans of the Net,” have become paragons of female empowerment and a rare source of national pride across the country’s social divides.

Lives lived: The musician Jimmy Buffett died at 76.

A Lebanese art collector was accused of money laundering and violating terrorism-related sanctions while helping the militant group Hezbollah in a federal indictment earlier this year.

The indictment led to headlines around the world, but less discussed has been the extent to which it detailed, with example after example, how the art market had played a significant role in the scheme. U.S. officials said Nazem Ahmad acquired over $54 million worth of artwork to convert and shelter proceeds from his diamond trading.

U.S. regulators have long complained that art transactions happen in secrecy and that the market has become ripe for money laundering and tax evasion. Dealers and auction houses, however, argue that the threats have been exaggerated and that the abuses are few.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Jonathan

P.S. Troy Closson and Emmanuel Morgan were honored at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Birmingham, Ala.

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