China’s New Counterterrorism Law: Playing High Politics at the Expense of the Low

Xi22, cc Foreign and Commonwealth Office Flickr, modified,

On December 27, 2015 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) passed China’s first counterterrorism law. Its core aim, though broadly articulated, refers to addressing terrorism at home and maintaining global security. The controversial law captured attention of the Obama administration because of its potential for forcing technology firms to support CCP counterterrorism activities including spying. Beijing is seen as having given itself the right to step beyond its state borders and engage in counterterrorism operations overseas, an aspect of US “effectiveness” institutionalized in the U.S. through its military and security doctrines that regard global counterterrorism efforts requiring all relevant US government departments and agencies’ involvement if terrorist organizations and networks are to be “rendered incapable or unwilling to use terrorism to achieve their goals.”

It would be nearly impossible to find a single strategic analyst who would be willing to argue that China is absolutely and universally detached from the strategic security environment that “has become more threatening to US interests due to global access, communications, and finance.” China’s security/military and political officials claim that China is at risk in the face of international terrorist organizations and networks just as much as the U.S. or any other state in the world today. Militants, extremists, and insurgents are located around the borders of China, especially in the area of its Western borders of Xinjiang, but also in other areas to the south.

Western states have also criticized China’s government over its law, citing it as a violation of human rights and the right to privacy. President Barack Obama expressed his disapprobative sentiments directly to President Xi Jinping. Obama made similar statements earlier in 2015 noting that the Chinese draft anti-terrorism law would have negative effects on US interests and the interests of US companies. Obama’s statements again bring attention to the sanctimonious position of US administrations that are willing to call out governments around the world for violating the rules of the game despite their own refusal, even if they acknowledge them, to adhere to those same rules, some of which are the product of US lawmaking efforts. China’s counterterrorism law also shines light on Washington’s ongoing “now exempt, now not exempt” disposition.

The US government has continued to blur the lines between appropriate action against terrorist organizations and networks.

US standards in the fields of privacy and protection were substantially altered in 2001 with the US Patriot Act, of which Section 215 (including the Protect America Act [PAA] of 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008) modified the statutory provision that gave the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the right to confer secret orders requiring the making of “any tangible thing (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” A number of amendments followed, and though controversial provisions of the US Patriot Act expired, the Obama administration nonetheless is a defender of the United States’ current position as a surveillance superpower hostile to the arrival of other states attempting to afford themselves the same type of privilege if even to a much lesser extent. Li Shouwei, deputy head of the criminal law division under the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee said, “[t]his rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do.”

In July 2015, China adopted a national security measure that put into effect the government’s desire to make all major network infrastructure and information systems “secure and controllable.” Obama reacted to the drafts in March 2015 by saying that the law “would essentially force all foreign companies, including US companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they could snoop and keep track of all the users of those services.”

In November 2015, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), calling attention to three main elements in the US strategy to defeat ISIS – popularly regarded as the most dangerous terrorist organization operating today. “No other country,” stated Clinton, “can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale, and that’s exactly what we need. The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it.”

Washington’s position has repeatedly implied that terrorism is both a global challenge and is at the same time somehow the special task of the US to defeat it. It has also implied the need of all states’ cooperation and initiative but concurrently demonstrated that only specific types of initiatives can be approved. At the same time, Washington has rejected certain measures, calling them violations of laws and other codes of conduct that are violated by its own measures and policies.

The US government has continued to blur the lines between appropriate action against terrorist organizations and networks, at times referring to international law and the importance of adhering to United Nations (UN) principles and the UN Charter though freely flouting it when it wants to. This was crisply illustrated in September 2014 when Obama publicly declared a state of perpetual war that wantonly violated the UN Charter, which is formally a part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.

Obama has relied on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress back in 2001 and various other powers that are holdovers from the Bush era and previous administrations’ nonsensically dubbed “War on Terror” (WoT), in addition to violating the War Powers Resolution and failure to request authorization for further military attacks. Indeed, it is difficult to talk about China’s new counterterrorism law without bringing into question the actions of the current US administration, which to a large extent, perpetuate and even augment the policies and measures of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld administration. China’s new counterterrorism law is the first of its kind in China.

Prior to this law, China only had related provisions within NPC Standing Committee decisions and relied on China’s criminal law, criminal procedural law, and emergency response law. If the roles were reversed there is little doubt that the Obama administration would find these measures inadequate for dealing with a growing threat in and around Central Asia and within China proper.

Despite the claims in both China and the U.S. about the growing threat of terrorism and need to organize global cooperation to combat it, less attention has been directed towards the effects of China’s new laws in terms of the increased pressure that is sure to mount against civil activism, social movements, and the use of media for speaking against the CCP. Indeed, the new law can be used to fight terrorists but there is a dual purpose that should not be ignored. China’s economy is weakening, and with it, the Chinese regime will face serious problems. In a way, the new law symbolizes the start of China’s own (maybe perpetual) war against what it terms “Western ideas.”


The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the authors are theirs alone and don’t reflect any official position of

Back to Top


Lost your password?