On June 22, 2009, a draft revision of China’s Law on Guarding State Secrets (中华人民共和国保守国家秘密法) was given a first reading at the Ninth Session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC). Although the draft revision was reviewed, it was not adopted by the NPC. Instead, on June 27, 2009, the NPC released the draft revision for public review and comment. The deadline for public feedback is July 31, 2009.
China’s state secrets system – with the Law on Guarding State Secrets as its centerpiece – is perhaps the most powerful tool the Chinese government has at its disposal to control access to information and to punish those who express views disapproved of by the government. As indicated by an explanation of the proposed changes in the draft revision, the revision is meant to address technological advances that have taken place since the Law on Guarding State Secrets was promulgated in 1988, and to place broader, tighter, and more rigorous control over classified information in the digital age.
Human Rights in China (HRIC) has translated the proposed draft revision of the Law on Guarding State Secrets into English. HRIC has also prepared a summary of cases highlighting politicized use of the state secrets system and a list of important state secrets law resources.
Some proposed changes indicating an emphasis on greater control include:
The draft revision does contain one article with the potential to increase openness, namely, a proposed procedure for declassification of state secrets at the end of set, finite time periods, as well as declassification of information or materials no longer deemed to be secret. (See Draft Article 17)
Nonetheless, the draft revision does not contain crucial measures that are essential to reforming a political culture of secrecy and promoting the rule of law. Specifically, the draft revision does not incorporate any of the following:
HRIC encourages Chinese citizens to engage in the process of state secrets reform by providing public comment on the draft revision before the July 31, 2009 deadline.
In addition, HRIC urges China law experts, both in China and abroad, as well as groups involved in rule of law and civil society capacity-building initiatives to call for greater openness and transparency through substantive legislative reforms to the state secrets system.
1. Although not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), China became a signatory to that treaty on October 5, 1998. As a signatory, China may not, as a matter of international law, do anything to actively undermine the purpose of the treaty. China has also indicated in numerous statements that it intends to ratify the ICCPR.^