Archive for February 27th, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

State Secrets: One Definition, Two Powers

A preparatory committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) considered possible changes to the state secrets law (国家保密法) on Wednesday, an AFP report published by Singapore’s Straits Times quotes Xinhua. The CCP’s news agency reportedly also said that the range of state secrets stipulated in the existing law was considered “too wide and vague”. The Straits Times / AFP didn’t elaborate on the details on Wednesday, saying that Xinhua gave no indication of [the draft’s] practical impact.

A commentary by Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报) writes today  that the current revision focuses on broad definitions such as “matters of economic and social secrets” (经济社会中的秘密事项), “secrets to protect the security of the state” (维护国安的秘密事项), “other secrets as defined by the Bureau for the Protection of Secrets, or State Secrets Bureau [SSB, 保密局, these bureaus seem to exist in the defense ministry, at state level, on local levels, etc., aka National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets].

The draft stipulates that the confidentiality period should be 30 years at maximum, and that “if the confidentiality period needs to be extended, another corresponding confidentiality period should be established”. It quotes international practice here (国际通行的定密官制度), making clear the classifiers’ (定密者) qualifications and responsibilities, writes Southern Metropolis Daily. The draft focused on procedures and on making long-standing classifying operations more specific, which would help the public to understand state secrets (对公众理解国家秘密有帮助) and could be summarized as “one definition, two powers” (一个定义、两种权力), namely: what are state secrets, plus the power to classify them, and to extend their classification periods (何谓国家秘密,以及定密权与续密权).

The scope of definition is rather broad and flexible. Even as it provides a deadline for de-classification, the classification period can be extended, and the extension procedures won’t be audited, which can’t be transparent, writes Southern Metropolis Daily. While logically built in itself, the draft lacks the principle of the tendency “openness as a rule, confidentiality as an exception”.

The key structure of the draft is about the exceptions of its provisions, but it therefore leaves backdoors, and is therefore unable to bundle the practise of imposing state secrets, writes the paper. It would make the promotion of information openness more difficult, rather than easier.


China Daily: Let Us in on the Secrets, China Digital Times, February 26, 2010
“Not totally moved away from ‘state secrets'”, August 13, 2009
Chinese Officials Dilute [State Secrets Bureau] Claim of Rio Tinto Deceit, WSJ, Aug. 11, 2009
China’s Transparency is just Thin Air, Asia Times, Sept. 12, 2008

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