BEIJING Feb 3 China has unveiled new rules
telling officials not to cover up what should be publicly
available information using the excuse it is a state secret, in
what state media said was a move towards greater government
China has notoriously vague state secret laws, covering
everything from the number of people executed every year to
industry databases and even pollution figures, and information
can be retroactively labelled a state secret.
The issue received international attention in 2009 when an
Australian citizen and three Chinese colleagues working for
mining giant Rio Tinto were detained for stealing state secrets
during the course of tense iron ore negotiations.
But the government has come under pressure from its own
people to be more open, especially on sensitive issues like the
environment, which have no obvious implications for national
The new rules, carried by the official Xinhua news agency
late on Sunday, mandate that government departments "must not
define as a state secret information which by law ought to be
Xinhua said that the move, due to come into force on March
1, was "an effort to boost government transparency".
However, in keeping with the vague nature of state secrecy
laws, the rules offer no explanation for what public information
will be covered that cannot be called a state secret.
The rules also state that "the scope of what is secret
should be adjusted in a timely manner according to changes in
Officials who discover that state secrets have been
compromised will have to report the problem within 24 hours and
will be punished if they cover up the leak or fail to report it,
Chinese officials, particularly at the local level, often
seek to invoke secrecy laws to prevent embarrassing problems
that could lead to punishment, such as police brutality or
pollution, from being reported to more senior officials.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)