China wants to attract more foreign tourists and more overseas experts. Why then, you might ask, is it playing a video on Beijing’s airport express train about the threat of foreign spies?
Even this week, as China gears up for its “inclusive” Belt and Road Forum the three-minute animation was playing on loop, reminding passengers that “overseas organisations and individuals” are after “state secrets”.
In one scene a burly foreign spy says to a child: “Sell your country’s secrets for a lot of money”. The little boy immediately denounces the bearded agent to a police officer and is rewarded with a lollipop.
The video was originally released on April 15 , now known as ‘National Security Education Day’ – a new awareness day which was first organised last year.
The cartoon’s aim is to promote a new reward system whereby Chinese citizens can earn up to Rmb500,000 ($72,500) for information leading to the capture of foreign spies.
“As the capital… Beijing is the first choice for overseas intelligence agencies and other hostile forces,” Beijing’s police bureau said last month. It added that China needs to build a “Great Wall of Steel” to deter “hostiles” looking to divide the country or stoke unrest.
Last year for the inaugural awareness day the capital’s police also released a series of cartoons titled “Dangerous Love”, in which David, a red haired foreigner, poses as an academic, and woos Xiao Li, a worker in a government propaganda office. Eventually she hands over a bunch of classified documents, only for David – a spy – to disappear.
The last frame shows Xiao Li crying and handcuffed while a policeman tells her she has a shallow understanding of “state security”.
How then to report a suspected ‘David’? The video on the train explains that informants can call a hotline, send a letter, or visit a local police station.
“People who provide important information can earn between Rmb100,000 and Rmb500,000,” it says showing a Guy Fawkes figure holding a bomb and standing beside Tiananmen Square.
An editorial in the Global Times said the public awareness campaign was necessary because opening up to the world had put China at risk.
“In the past, Chinese society was relatively simple and it was easy to spot the act of spying,” it said. “But the situation is quite different now… Sometimes, Chinese people are trapped by a foreign spy without even knowing it. Some foreigners spy on China under the guise of engaging in communication and doing business in China,” it warned.
The public was not universally convinced. “These [videos] remind me of the Cultural Revolution,” scoffed one weibo user.
“How stupid are these spies if even ordinary people can catch them,” asked another.
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