World News

U.S. says China laws would harm, not help, fight against terrorism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has expressed “serious concerns” to China about its draft counter-terrorism law which would do more harm than good against the threat of terrorism, the State Department said on Tuesday.

The planned legislation, which could be passed before the end of the year, would constrict U.S. trade and investment in China, State Department spokeswoman Gabrielle Price said.

She also criticized a Chinese national security law passed this year and proposed legislation on foreign non-government organizations “We strongly believe that broad, vaguely phrased provisions in this draft law, along with the National Security Law passed this year and the draft Foreign NGO Management law also under consideration, would do more harm than good in addressing the threat of terrorism,” Price told reporters.

“We believe the draft Counterterrorism Law would lead to greater restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion within China.”

The draft law has attracted Western concern as it could require technology firms to hand over sensitive information such as encryption keys to the government.

China’s state media reported on Tuesday that it may also further restrict the right of media to report on details of terror attacks.

The law is currently having another reading at a session of the standing committee for China’s largely rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, which ends on Sunday.

It is not clear if the technology requirements remain in the draft.

The initial draft, published late last year, requires companies to keep servers and user data within China, supply law enforcement authorities with communications records and censor terrorism-related Internet content.

Officials in Washington have argued the law, combined with new draft banking and insurance rules and a slew of anti-trust investigations, amount to unfair regulatory pressure targeting foreign companies.

China has said many Western governments, including the United States, have made similar requests for encryption keys, and Chinese companies operating in the United States had been subject to intense security checks.

China’s national security law adopted in July requires all key network infrastructure and information systems to be “secure and controllable”.

Western governments have also been pressuring China to revise a proposed law they say would severely restrict the activities of NGOs, business groups and universities.

China is drafting the anti-terrorism law at a time when officials say it faces a growing threat from militants, especially in its unruly far-western region of Xinjiang, where hundreds have died in violence in the past few years.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell