Laws elsewhere in region to address foreign interference

A number of other countries and territories in the region have some form of legislation, or are drawing up laws, to tackle foreign interference.

AUSTRALIA: Laws passed in 2018 criminalise covert, deceptive or threatening actions that are intended to interfere with democratic processes or provide intelligence to overseas governments.

Industrial espionage, or the theft of trade secrets, was made a criminal offence.

CHINA: The Law on Administration of Overseas Non-Governmental Organisations, also known as the Foreign NGO Law, became effective in 2017, after the Communist Party of China stressed the need to regulate foreign NGOs for security reasons.

It mandates that they be registered with the Ministry of Public Security, which ensures that their activities do not "endanger China's national or ethnic unity and security". The groups are also banned from engaging in or funding for-profit, political and religious activities.

INDIA: The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act was amended last year to ensure greater transparency over the receipt and use of foreign funds by non-profit organisations. It grants the Ministry of Home Affairs authority to cancel foreign contribution agreements to Indian non-profit groups for up to six months, should the foreign sources be found to have threatened national interests.

JAPAN: Japan has no explicit laws against foreign interference. But new Economic Security Minister Takayuki Kobayashi aims to submit, by early next year, necessary legislation to Parliament that will enable Japan to identify, protect and foster sensitive technologies and strengthen supply chains, among other things.

He will also look into tougher disclosure rules on institutions, which will have to declare foreign income sources, and stricter background checks on visiting researchers to prevent the outflow of sensitive research and technology.

SOUTH KOREA: While there is no explicit law to counter overseas interference, there is an attempt to avoid foreign meddling in domestic politics. Article 31 of the Political Funds Act prevents foreign nationals or organisations from making political contributions in South Korea.

MALAYSIA: No laws have been enacted, but foreign media groups have been banned for publishing "unsubstantiated" content.

London-based news site Sarawak Report was blocked under the Communications and Multimedia Act in 2015 on account of "undermining the stability" of Malaysia, after it reported allegations linked to then Prime Minister Najib Razak and the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund.

The block was lifted after Najib lost the 2018 election.

NEW ZEALAND: Ahead of elections last year, the country's Parliament passed amendments to the Electoral Act to place a NZ$50 (S$47) limit on foreign donations to political parties and candidates.

Further amendments to protect polls from foreign meddling included a requirement for political party secretaries to reside in New Zealand and a ban on anonymous online advertising related to an election.

TAIWAN: The Anti-Infiltration Law came into effect just before the island's presidential election last year, following claims of China backing candidates from main opposition party Kuomintang.

The law prevents foreign forces from making political donations, spreading misinformation, and interfering with elections and government businesses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2021, with the headline 'Laws elsewhere in region to address foreign interference'. Subscribe