BEIJING (Reuters) - China will set up a national anti-terrorism intelligence system, state media said on Monday, as part of changes to a security law expected to be passed this week after an upsurge in violence in the far western region of Xinjiang.
Hundreds of people have been killed over the past two years in Xinjiang in unrest the government has blamed on Islamists who want to establish a separate state called East Turkestan.
Rights groups and exiles blame the government’s repressive policies for stoking resentment among the Muslim Uighur people who call Xinjiang home.
The Xinhua state news agency said changes to the draft security law going through parliament were aimed at improving intelligence gathering and the sharing of information across government departments, while also enhancing international cooperation.
“Our country is facing a serious and complex struggle against terrorism,” Xinhua said.
“China will set up an anti-terrorism intelligence gathering center to coordinate and streamline intelligence gathering in the field, according to a draft law submitted for reading on Monday,” it said.
The agency did not elaborate on the proposed intelligence center but said other changes to the law would focus on the “management” of the Internet, the transport of dangerous materials and border controls.
People found guilty of “promoting terrorism and extremism by producing and distributing related materials, releasing information, instructing in person or through audio, video or information networks will face more than five years in prison in serious cases”.
Some recent attacks in Xinjiang have pointed to serious intelligence failures despite a big security presence there, including a bomb and knife attack at a train station in April that happened as President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a visit to the area.
The government also plans to amend the National Security Law, replacing it with a counter-espionage law, Xinhua said in a separate report, giving only vague details about what the new law would include.
China has notoriously broad laws concerning state secrets, covering everything from industry data to the exact birth dates of state leaders. Information can also be labeled a state secret retroactively.
In severe cases, the theft of state secrets is punishable with life in prison or the death penalty.
In August, the government said it was investigating a Canadian couple who ran a coffee shop on the Chinese border with North Korea for suspected theft of military and intelligence information and for threatening national security.
China has traditionally had a problem gaining cooperation from Western countries in its fight against militancy because of concern about human rights.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Robert Birsel