China Issues Regulations Implementing Secrecy Law

6 February 2014

Long-awaited implementing regulations under China’s State Secrecy Law have been published.

The Chinese media characterized them as a measure to boost government transparency, but critics questioned them.

The regulations (in Chinese) impose conditions for classification and set deadlines for de-classifications. There appears to be no system for citizens to challenge classification decisions and withholding of information on state secrecy grounds.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua said:

Organs and units have been told not to label items that should be made public as “state secrets”, and they should not publicize those related to state secrets, the regulation said.

The regulation defines secrecy levels and authority limits, and clarifies time limits for differing levels of confidentiality and conditions for declassification.

Government agencies are asked to report possible leaks of state secrets within 24 hours, according to the regulation, which consists of 45 articles and will come into force on March 1.

Critics Say Standards Vague

“Observers say the measure does little to clarify what qualifies as a state secret,” according to a Voice of America article by Rebecca Valli.

“Because of the law’s vague language, activists say that many officials choose to withhold information rather than releasing it to the public and risking embarrassment or even criminal charges,’ the article states.

Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China, is quoted as expressing concern that secret classification may still be applied to environmental disasters, health pandemics or consumer safety. “When we get an answer to that and they declassify that information then we can say there has been some real progress in transparency and access to information.  But right now, it’s a big question mark,” she said.

Other critical remarks were cited in a report on NTD television.

Zheng Enchong, Shanghai lawyer: “There are state secrets everywhere in China. Any government scandals are state secrets. I don’t think the new rules would help, but rather a protection of the corrupt system.”

Zheng Enchong says that under the new regulations, local governments and units will further censor what they believe inappropriate to disclose as state secrets. The public will further be excluded from state affairs, social activities, and anti-corruption campaigns. The corruption will only get more serious.”

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