BEIJING — Psst. Over here. Don’t look at me, but if you’re in Beijing and happen to know your local Agent 007, you may be able to cash in.
The Chinese capital’s spy hunters are offering people up to a half-million renminbi (more than $72,000) to help identify foreign espionage activities and catch the operatives responsible, Beijing newspapers said on Monday.
The Chinese government has long admonished citizens that they have a duty to catch foreign spies and their agents. Under President Xi Jinping, warnings have grown about spooks lurking near military bases or seducing lovelorn officials. There’s even a National Security Education Day to drum home the warnings.
But the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security has decided that appeals to pure patriotism are not enough. It’s offering cash for tips. Rewards for exposing espionage in the lowest category range from $1,450 to $7,240, according to rules that went into effect on Monday. The highest category offers rewards of more than $72,000.
“For actions that play a particularly large role in preventing or halting espionage activity or breaking espionage cases, and for contributions of especially important leads, the reward will be from 100,000 to 500,000 yuan,” say the rules. The yuan is another name for the Chinese currency.
For residents who still need convincing, an online cartoon ad is promoting the campaign. It features a young boy wearing the red scarf of a Communist Young Pioneer who dishes the dirt on a swarthy foreigner in a bandit’s mask.
“Steal state secrets with me and make a fortune by selling them abroad!” the swarthy foreigner tells the boy outside a hotel.
But the Young Pioneer is too smart for that.
“Uncle policeman, he’s the one!” he tells an officer who whisks the foreigner away in handcuffs.
The boy’s reward is a lollipop. But the ad tells residents to expect much more if they call in about spies they stumble across.
“Think informing on spies is too much effort for too little reward?” the ad says in the kind of shrill voice that might be used to sell kitchen knife sets on late-night television. “Do you still think that good deeds go unrewarded?”
The cash-for-spies campaign is the latest addition to the Chinese government’s battery of measures to fight foreign espionage and subversion. In 2014, the government introduced a counterespionage law. Mr. Xi has established a secretive National Security Commission, and Ministry of State Security agents seem more and more numerous and intrusive.
As the national capital, awash with political gossip, high-tech companies and foreigners, Beijing is a prime location for “foreign espionage and intelligence agencies and other hostile forces who are engaged in infiltration, subversion, separatism, sabotage and stealing secrets,” according to an explanation accompanying the new rules.
Chinese media have reported arrests of foreigners and Chinese nationals accused of spying, especially for Japan, but have given few details. A few years ago, Jilin Province in northeast China introduced a hotline for residents to report possible spies (dial 12339). There was a spate of news reports about the hotline, but no spate of reports of captured spies.
The latest campaign in Beijing implicitly acknowledges that all this focus on foreign threats may create dangerous incentives. Those who “use the excuse of informing to deliberately make false accusations or frame others” or abuse the rules in other ways could be prosecuted, the rules say.
China state security agents usually like to remain in the shadows. But the rules require some disclosure to reap a reward. Locals can inform on suspected spies by calling a state security phone line (12339), writing to the Beijing state security bureau or showing up at its office (No. 9, Qianmen Street East, not far from Tiananmen Square).
For successful whistle-blowers, the rules carry an important reminder: “Informants can pick up the reward within 90 days of receiving notification.”