The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

To catch a spy: Beijing offers $70,000 reward — and a cartoon video to help in the hunt

A Beijing State Security Bureau video explains what to look for in order to expose a spy (Video: Beijing City National Security Bureau)
Placeholder while article actions load

Are you worried that nice guys finish last, or that all your hard work exposing clandestine operations is a waste of time?

Worry no more.

The Beijing government announced Monday that it is offering cash rewards of up to half a million yuan (more than $72,000) for anyone who helps expose a spy, state media reported.

An animated video, posted by the Beijing City National Security Bureau on the website, offers an illustrated guide of what to look out for and how to claim your reward — complete with the motivating message cited above suggesting that nice guys don't have to finish last.

The measures are part of a growing campaign to reinforce China’s national security against what the Communist Party sees as rising internal and external threats.

The aim: to motivate citizens to “gradually build up a steel Great Wall against spies and espionage,” according to a statement from the Beijing City National Security Bureau.

“Beijing is the top choice for overseas spy agencies and other hostile forces to conduct activities of infiltration, subversion, division, destruction and information theft,” the statement said.

Two years ago, China set up a national hotline for citizens to report on suspected spies or espionage activities. Last year, it marked its inaugural National Security Education Day on April 15 with warnings about spying, including a comic-book poster warning young female government workers about dating handsome foreigners, who could turn out to have sinister motives.

On Monday, the Beijing City National Security Bureau said its rewards for information that could expose spies range from 10,000 to 500,000 yuan ($1,500 to $72,000).

The official Beijing Daily newspaper said the “pressing” need for such new measures was a consequence of China’s opening up.

“Foreign intelligence organs and other hostile forces have also seized the opportunity to sabotage our country through political infiltration, division and subversion, stealing secrets and collusion,” the newspaper added.

However, since the opening-up process began nearly four decades ago, that explanation does not appear entirely convincing.

Li Fan, founder of the private think tank World and China Institute, noted that the new rules were issued just days after President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had vowed to strengthen social and cultural exchanges between their two countries.

“This is absolutely inexplicable and absurd,” Li said. “I don’t know what the government is thinking about.”

Under Xi’s presidency, China has passed laws designed to strengthen national security and cybersecurity, combat terrorism and regulate foreign nongovernmental organizations.

The government has also cracked down hard on domestic civil society groups, lawyers and journalists, and it is engaged in a war against what it sees as dangerous “Western values” such as free speech and democracy, promoted by “hostile foreign forces” aiming to subvert Communist Party rule.

Li said the new rules could fuel mistrust toward foreigners in Beijing, including journalists.

“How can foreign media report here?” he asked. “If you take a photo on the street, somebody will report you as a hostile foreign spy. People will be more cautious to talk to foreign media.”

Li said the instructions reminded him of the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous decade in the history of Communist China when husbands, wives and children were encouraged to denounce one another as rightists or class enemies.

The Beijing government warned that spies might be working with employees of state organizations to harm China’s national interests, encouraging people to defect or buying state secrets.

Information leading to the discovery of equipment such as recording or monitoring devices could bring additional rewards, it said.

Congcong Zhang contributed to this report.