HONG KONG • China has launched a new hotline for citizens to report anyone suspected of being a spy.
The hotline, 12339, made its debut in the north-eastern province of Jilin on Sunday, according to the Jilin Daily.
The newspaper said the hotline, run by the Jilin state security bureau, was set up to enable citizens who encounter behaviour that would harm China's national security to report the matter immediately to state security organs.
China has a history of neighbours closely monitoring and reporting on one another. But the authorities cautioned they were not looking for hearsay. The Jilin Daily warned that anyone responsible for "intentional fabrication, lies or false charges" would be punished.
Beijing has made it clear it considers espionage a grave threat. There have been several high-profile defections in recent years, and the National Security Agency appears to do extensive surveillance of Chinese mobile and Internet communications, according to disclosures by former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
In March, the government detained an American businesswoman, who was travelling with a delegation in southern China, for what a foreign affairs ministry spokesman called "suspicion of activities harmful to Chinese national security".
In May, China detained two Japanese citizens on suspicion of espionage. Last year, a Canadian couple who ran a coffee shop in Dandong, a town on the border with North Korea, were also detained.
Meanwhile, a note circulating on Chinese social media sites gave more details of who might be a spy, including people with lots of money but unclear work titles and people who say controversial things. It listed as potential suspects workers at non-governmental organisations, missionaries and journalists stationed abroad or writing on foreign affairs.
Global Times, a state-run English daily, described the hotline as similar to one set up by MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency, in the 1990s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also invites people with non-emergency information about potential espionage or terrorism to contact its field offices.
A separate hotline for Hainan province in south-eastern China received dozens of calls after it was set up in July and led to the uncovering of more than 10 cases of alleged crimes, the Legal Daily reported in September.
The hotline in Jilin accepts reports from across the country.
NEW YORK TIMES