•Chinese law distinguishes between administrative violations and criminal acts based on the degree of harm they cause, and affixes different legal liabilities accordingly.
•The criteria for determining law-breaking terrorist activities are accurately defined.
Terrorism is the common enemy of humanity, posing a grave threat to international peace and security, and representing a challenge to all countries and all of humanity. All members of the international community share the responsibility to fight it.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, a series of horrendous terrorist attacks have occurred around the world. In response, many countries have made their own counterterrorism law, or amended existing laws.
In October 2011, to strengthen counterterrorism, safeguard national security, maintain social stability, and protect people’s lives and property, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee adopted the Decision on Issues Related to Strengthening Counterterrorism Work, which defines the concept of terrorism, the leading state counterterrorism body and its duties, the determination of terrorist organisations and individuals, the publication of lists of these organisations and individuals, and the principles for international cooperation. This laid a solid foundation for subsequent legislation.
As a victim of terrorism, China has long faced its real threat, and has always attached great importance to law-based counterterrorism efforts. It has accumulated experience by concluding or joining international conventions and treaties and amending and improving criminal laws. On January 24, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China released a white paper titled, “China’s Legal Framework and Measures for Counterterrorism”.
In the face of new developments in international and domestic terrorism, China has first endeavoured to gain a deeper understanding of law-based counterterrorism, summarise its underlying dynamics, and identify appropriate countermeasures.
China has found a path of law-based counterterrorism that conforms to its realities by establishing a sound legal framework, promoting strict, impartial, procedure-based law enforcement, and ensuring impartial administration of justice and effective protection of human rights. It has safeguarded national and public security, protected people’s lives and property, and contributed to global and regional security and stability.
To strengthen international cooperation and effectively prevent and combat terrorist activities, China has joined or ratified a number of conventions since the late 1970s. In light of its national conditions, and following constitutional principles, China has drawn on useful experience from the international community and accelerated its efforts to build a domestic counterterrorism legal framework since the 1990s.
In 2012 and 2018, the NPC and its Standing Committee amended the Criminal Procedure Law to add provisions on the investigation, prosecution, and trial procedures for crimes of terrorism. The Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate have independently or jointly formulated and issued a series of judicial interpretations to further standardise the application of law and prosecution procedures for combating crimes of terrorism.
China has made consistent efforts to upgrade the counterterrorism provisions of relevant laws to strengthen systematic coordination among different laws, close legal loopholes, improve areas of weakness, and form synergy in counterterrorism practice.
Relying on more than 40 years of experience, China has gradually formed a counterterrorism legal framework based on the Constitution. With the Counterterrorism Law as the centerpiece and the criminal laws and National Security Law playing major roles and other laws as supplements, it also covers administrative regulations, judicial interpretations, local regulations, and departmental and local government rules.
Chinese law has clear provisions for the determination and punishment of terrorist activities. It distinguishes between administrative violations and criminal acts based on the degree of harm they cause, and affixes different legal liabilities accordingly. The criteria for the determination of terrorism-related violations and penalties are stipulated in the Counterterrorism Law, and the criteria for the determination and punishment of terrorist crimes are stipulated in the Criminal Law.
The concepts of terrorism and terrorist activities are clearly defined. China’s Counterterrorism Law provides concrete and precise definitions of terrorism, terrorist activities, and related concepts, consistent with the principles championed by the international conventions it has entered and concluded, and in agreement with the practices of other countries.
In the Counterterrorism Law, the concept of terrorism encompasses the means, ends and forms, and is defined as propositions or acts that by means of violence, sabotage or intimidation, create social panic, undermine public security, violate personal and property rights, or coerce state agencies and international organisations to realise political, ideological or other purposes. The Counterterrorism Law defines the nature of terrorist activities and their specific forms, including organising, planning, preparing for, or conducting acts that cause serious social harm.
The Counterterrorism Law and the Regulations of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Deradicalisation define the concept of extremism and specific forms of extremist activity, and highlight the link between extremist thought and terrorism. The criteria for determining law-breaking terrorist activities are accurately defined. China’s Criminal Law assigns criminal liability only for terrorist activities that inflict grave harm on society.
Minor violations of the law that do not constitute crimes instead receive administrative penalties in accordance with the Counterterrorism Law and other relevant laws. The Counterterrorism Law lists terrorist activities that are punishable by administrative penalties issued by public security agencies, including advocating terrorism and extremism or inciting the commission of terrorist and extremist acts.
Whether the violations are minor or not is subject to the judgment of judicial and law enforcement agencies, based on whether the activities involve the essential condition of crime. Judicial and law enforcement agencies take into account the motive of the offender, their role in the activities, and the harm caused to society.
Stephen Ndegwa is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi-based communications development think tank, and a PhD student at the United States International University-Africa