China, Intelligence and Security

China, Intelligence and Security

China is the last communist-dominated world power. The nation reserves veto power on the United Nations Security Council, and is a declared nuclear power. Although censorship and restricted civil liberties persist in China, citizens have witnessed a gradual ease of economic and social restraints. Poverty remains an endemic problem, causing an exodus of people from rural areas into already overcrowded cities. In response, the government prohibited moving between regions and towns without express permission. With the transfer of Hong Kong from British control to Chinese administration in 1997 and the advent of the Internet, the Chinese economy, media, and society have been permeated by Western influences.

In Asia, Chinese politics cast a shadow over smaller satellite states, most especially North Korea. In 2003,

North Korea reactivated a nuclear reactor and announced that it possessed the capabilities to produce nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The development arose international suspicion that North Korea received nuclear materials and technology from its closest ally, China. The Chinese government denies aiding North Korea, and maintains that it adheres to global non-proliferation efforts. The Chinese intelligence community, however, is reluctant to share information about North Korea with Western nations, especially the United States.

China's main intelligence agency is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). The Communist Party of China dominates the Chinese government, especially the intelligence community. Political espionage within China, and on Chinese citizens, is endemic. Government reforms in 1983 created the MSS, restructuring the Chinese intelligence community and revising the mission of its predecessor agency to account for technological advances in intelligence tradecraft. The MSS utilizes human, signals, remote, electronic, and communications intelligence in its varied operations. The main mission of the MSS is to protect national interests and preserve government stability. However, the MSS also aggressively targets United States and European businesses and factories in a broad campaign of industrial and economic espionage.

Chinese military intelligence is divided into operational departments that fall under the administration of the central government and individual branches of the military. The People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's defense force, maintains trained intelligence, counterintelligence, and security forces. The operations of these forces are highly secret, but most operations deal with domestic and regional threats to the government. PLA intelligence also guards military instillations and key assets in the nation's nuclear weapons program. The PLA Navy has its own intelligence force, concentrating on surveillance at sea, signals, and communications intelligence. The PLA Air Force's intelligence forces are known as the Sixth Research Institute. Sixth Research conducts intelligence operations similar to other military and civilian organizations, but is also the primary agency for aerial surveillance.

The Second Intelligence Department focuses on foreign intelligence and espionage against rival nations. In addition to monitoring foreign diplomats and foreign interests within China, the agency also conducts political surveillance of Chinese diplomats abroad. Recently, the Second Intelligence Department received a new mandate to work with the MSS to increase industrial, economic, scientific, and technological espionage efforts, especially in Western nations.

Throughout China there are municipal, regional, and national police forces. The Ministry of Public Security administers the national police force. A military trained police force, Unit 8341 General Security Regiment, provides security for government buildings and personnel, and conducts counterintelligence and anti-terrorism operations. The special police force and intelligence unit is maintained by the General Staff Department.

The Chinese government also maintains secret police forces. These forces are mostly plain-clothes officers who use a network of informers to conduct surveillance and political espionage operations on behalf of the government. Some of these police forces have gained a reputation for their arbitrary imprisonment of citizens and garnered international criticism for use of excessive force and coercion.

A primary duty of China's intelligence and security community is media surveillance and participation in state censorship efforts. The government censors all medium of public expression, but in recent years has placed special emphasis on monitoring electronic communication and the Internet. In 1989, the intelligence forces began monitoring all fax transmissions. Five years later, e-mail communication was declared open to state censorship and surveillance. China's aggressive censorship initiatives monitor political dissidents and anti-government sentiment.

China's news service, Xinhua, provides censored news to China's citizens via television, print media, and radio. The news service also plays a crucial role in China's intelligence community. The bureau analyzes reports from informants, foreign diplomats, foreign journalists and news services, and reports to Chinese government officials. Members of the MSS work within the Xinhua, using its network and journalistic credentials as a mean of gathering intelligence information.



Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Fewsmith, Joseph. China since Tiananmen. Cambridge University Press, 2001.


Clinton Administration (1993–2001), United States National Security Policy
Cold War (1945–1950), The Start of the Atomic Age
Cold War (1950–1972)
Cold War (1972–1989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union Korean War
Nixon Administration (1969–1974), United States National Security Policy
North Korea, Intelligence and Security
North Korean Nuclear Weapons Programs

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