12/21/2023, 17.03
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Xi Jinping tasks intelligence service with safeguarding economic security

by John Ai

The Ministry of State Security has a new task, that of protecting the economy amid slowing growth. The once-mysterious intelligence service is becoming more active on social media against “hostile forces" that might hinder development. At the same time, the authorities are censoring negative comments to boost investor confidence.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A hitherto mysterious intelligence service linked to the state is gaining greater visibility and becoming more prominent.

China's Ministry of State Security has posted several articles dedicated to economic security on its social media accounts, vowing to crack down on negative and critical reports about the Chinese economy. The goal is to avoid systemic risks to economy, coordinating with other government departments.

In a post on China's most popular social media platform, WeChat, the Ministry said that economic security is an important part of overall national security.

It also said that critical remarks on sensitive topics such as the authorities' crackdown on private companies and the exclusion of foreign businesses end up undermining market confidence and expectations, as well as negatively affecting any improvement in the economy.

In addition, the post states that the remarks are intended to attack and criticise the system and the path taken towards socialism with Chinese characteristics.

After Chinese leaders met last week to discuss next year's economic planning, the Ministry of State Security posted various statements on social media emphasising economic security and stability.

The closed-door meeting of top leaders of the ruling Communist Party of China set the target for annual GDP growth at 5 per cent in 2024, while acknowledging challenges posed by debt and default risks, as well as the real estate crisis.

To cope with this, Chinese leaders decided to boost propaganda to improve confidence and expectations in the economy, as one of the solutions to the slowdown in growth.

To this end, some economic commentators and business columnists have been warned not to make negative comments about the current economic and financial situation, although most shy away from political or sensitive topics anyway.

Likewise, social media platforms have warned bloggers with many followers to stay away from topics on the economy, finance, and the stock market.

Recently, China has tightened its control over social media, which are required to display the real name of accounts with more than 500,000 followers.

Recent Chinese economic data show the pressure of the slowdown, with the looming risk of deflation. The consumer price index fell by 0.5 per cent in November.

Analysts also warn that the high rate of youth unemployment could be an additional risk factor and trigger a crisis.

Meanwhile, in a post earlier this month, the Ministry of State Security defended anti-espionage legislation denying that it would scare off foreign companies.

The post cited official data showing a positive outlook for the economy, noting that the law does not target ordinary businesses and will not affect foreign investment.

Still, Chinese police did raid several foreign companies, including the Mintz Group, a corporate due diligence firm, and the Bain & Company consulting firm. Some employees were arrested.

In March, a senior employee of a Japanese company operating in China was arrested for espionage, while some foreign companies warned their employees not to travel to China.

In past few years, the Ministry of State Security has become more prominent in official media as well. In 2018, it opened its official website to encourage people to report spies. At the end of July of this year, it opened an account on WeChat.

In the third quarter of this year, China recorded its first deficit in foreign direct investment (FDI) since 1988 as direct investment liabilities – a broad measure of FDI that includes foreign companies' retained earnings – reached US$ 11.8 billion.

As a result of the adoption of controversial security laws (anti-espionage and data security), as well as expanding the scope of the existing national security law, several multinational companies dealing with consultancy, legal services, and cross-border data transfers are considering pulling out of China.

China’s current policies show that the country’s leaders have prioritised national security over economic growth.

According to a May article in the Wall Street Journal, President Xi Jinping put Minister of State Security Chen Yixin in charge of monitoring foreign companies.

Chen began his career in Zhejiang province and worked for the current president when he was leader of the province 20 years ago.

As government control and repression are strengthened, national security appears to be at the top of Xi's agenda, since nothing concrete has been done to meet the demands of private enterprises and foreign companies.


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