US warns new Chinese counterespionage law puts companies at risk

By Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US on Friday warned about a new Chinese counter-espionage law, saying American and other foreign companies in the country could face penalties from Chinese authorities for regular business activities.

Chinese lawmakers this year passed a wide-ranging update to Beijing’s anti-espionage legislation that went into effect on July 1, banning the transfer of any information related to national security and broadening the definition of spying.

China this year has also cracked down on US consultancy and due diligence firms, a move business lobbies have said unnerved foreign investors in the world’s second largest economy.

The US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) said in a bulletin that China viewed outbound flow of data as a national security risk, and that the new and existing laws could compel companies’ locally employed Chinese nationals to assist in Chinese intelligence efforts.

“These laws provide the PRC (People’s Republic of China) government with expanded legal grounds for accessing and controlling data held by US firms in China,” the NCSC said.

“US companies and individuals in China could also face penalties for traditional business activities that Beijing deems acts of espionage or for actions that Beijing believes assist foreign sanctions against China,” he said.

It said the ambiguities of the law meant that “any documents, data, materials or items” could be deemed relevant to Chinese national security, also putting journalists, academics and researchers at risk.

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has emphasized national security since taking office in 2012. Suspicion in China of the US and its allies has grown as the US-China rivalry has intensified, yet Beijing has insisted it is opening up to overseas investment.

US officials have told Reuters that since the enactment of the Chinese law in April they have received a flood of questions from businesses and other groups about the risks of traveling to China.

The US State Department also updated its travel advisory for China on Friday. The “risk of wrongful detentions” is among its warnings for Americans to consider travel to the country.

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns has said Beijing’s targeting of US firms was politically motivated and that Washington would push back.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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