China to tighten state security by counter-espionage law

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China passed a counter-espionage law on Saturday aimed at tightening state security and helping build a "comprehensive" national security system, state media reported.

The law will allow authorities to seal or seize any property linked to activities deemed harmful to the country, the Xinhua news agency said.

Authorities can also ask organisations or individuals to stop or modify any behaviour regarded as damaging to China's interests, Xinhua said. Refusal to comply would allow enforcement agencies to confiscate properties.

Possession of espionage equipment, as defined by the state security department, had also been made illegal, Xinhua said. The news agency gave no further details.

As China already has broad laws governing state secrets and security, it was not clear to what extent the new law - passed by revising and re-naming a previous national security law for the first time in 21 years - would enhance policing powers.

The revised security law followed a Communist Party meeting last month that promised to allow courts more independence and curtail officials' influence over legal cases, though the vows were criticised by some as lacking in substance.

Parliament also revised an "administrative procedure law"that would expand peoples' right to sue the government.

The defendants in these legal cases, such as government officials, would be fined or detained if they "force a plaintiff to withdraw the suit through illegal means such as threats or fraud", Xinhua said.