Hu Signs New Regulations Safeguarding Military Secrets

CMC Chairman Hu Jintao

Against the backdrop of an uptick in high-profile cases involving military secrets that include startling revelations by Taiwan’s intelligence chief of China’s growing arsenal of strategic weapons, Beijing is beefing up its secrecy regulations to better safeguard its classified information. On April 1, Chinese President and Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman Hu Jintao signed into order the "Regulations of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Secrecy (Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun baomi tiaoli) (hereinafter "Regulations"). According to Jiefangjun Bao, the new Regulations, which will reportedly go into effect on May 1, are intended "to accentuate and ensure the priority in secrecy work by narrowing down the scope and shortening the front" (PLA Daily, April 2). The signing of the new regulations also underscores growing concerns in Beijing over its ability to maintain military secrets under conditions of informationization, and the intensification of distrust as well as military tensions between Taipei and Beijing in spite of a thaw in cross-Strait relations.

During a recent hearing before the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliament), Taiwan’s intelligence chief, Tsai Der-Sheng, claimed that his bureau had intelligence that China had begun deploying a new weapon system, Dong Feng-16 (DF-16) ballistic missiles, which experts believe have a range of up to 1,200 kilometers. There is currently no open source information available on the DF-16. Tsai argued that while Western intelligence estimates relied on surveillance satellites to gather information on China’s weapons development, the National Security Bureau (NSB) had access to raw human intelligence (Taipei Times, March 17; See "Taiwan’s Intelligence Chief Warns about the PLA’s Growing Strategic Weapon Systems," China Brief, March 25).

The current regulations on PLA military secrets were issued in 1996. The revised regulations modify the scope of what the PLA considered military secrets, define the responsibilities of military personnel who are involved in the handling of confidential information and added provisions concerning the development and use of a classified information database, as well as the Internet and mobile phones. It also stipulates how to investigate and handle cases regarding the leakage of military secrets and specific duties of PLA units and personnel (Xinhua News Agency, April 2; PLA Daily, April 2). Ostensibly, the revised regulations intends to establish a hierarchical system of secrecy by assigning the level of sensitivity to military secrets.

The new regulations are consistent with the trend toward military informationization, and the security requirements of building a data classification system (PLA Daily, April 2). On balance, these new measures will establish a mechanism that provides clear division of duties and responsibilities as well as close cooperation among relevant departments, the duties and responsibilities of the ‘secret-keeping’ committees, military personnel, and leaders at various levels. Relevant departments could also help to clarify and strengthen regulation and management of military secrets (PLA Daily, April 2).

The promulgation of the new regulations demonstrates growing concerns in Beijing over the security of maintaining military secrets, and the intensification of overt and covert military tensions between Taipei and Beijing. The new regulations also reflect the modernization of China’s data classification system, which underscores the importance of protecting classified information and assets under conditions of military informationization. To that end, the Hu administration appears to be taking steps toward establishing a regulatory framework that imposes additional safeguards for handling classified information. While the signing of the new regulations was overshadowed by the release of China’s White Paper on National Defense in 2010, it is no less significant. The full extent of these new regulations remain to be seen, however, it is clear that they will strengthen coordination and add to the Chinese government’s toolbox for controlling the flow of information about the country’s military secrets.