A 22-year-old Chinese citizen was arrested on charges of subverting state power after he worked as an intern for a foreign media outlet that published articles critical of the Chinese Communist government, Chinese state media reported.

On April 15 the People’s Republic of China (PRC) celebrated its 6th National Security Education Day (全民国家安全教育日) to raise awareness of “national security issues” in schools across the country, in line with PRC President Xi Jinping’s claim that “all of society should be mobilized to safeguard national security, consolidate the social basis for national security and prevent and defuse security risks.”

In the PRC, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the state itself are not separate. National security therefore encompasses not only the defence from foreign encroachment but also the preservation of CCP one-party rule.

As part of the regime’s propaganda efforts, on National Security Education Day state media published stories of young Chinese who allegedly became tools of “anti-China hostile foreign forces” (境外反华敌对势力). One of these stories relates to a 22-year-old man identified only by his surname Tian (田), who interned at a foreign news outlet and was accused of writing content and sharing information to “slander” and “smear” China.

Born in 1999, Tian was a journalism student at a university in Hebei province. As Chinese state media stated, “when he was eight years old he began to watch anti-China foreign media programmes, and he often ‘climbed over the wall’ (翻墙, i.e. he breached the Great Firewall) to browse a large quantity of foreign anti-China political news.”

On 1 January 2016, Tian reportedly opened accounts on foreign social media networks and “began to interact with foreign anti-China hostile forces.” While he was a student, Tian obtained an internship position at the Beijing branch of a renowned Western media outlet “on the recommendation of a foreign anti-China journalist.”

During his time as an intern, Tian allegedly “sensationalized many sensitive issues”, “wrote over 500 signed articles”. Having been “lead astray and instigated by foreign forces”, he created an “anti-China website” in which he “wantonly spread all kinds of anti-China news and political rumours, launching vicious attacks against China.”

In April 2019 “foreign anti-China media invited Tian to secretly travel to a certain Western country and make contacts with over twenty hostile organizations,” Chinese state media alleged. They further accused him of taking instructions from foreign officials and “secretly gathering and providing so-called ‘evidence’ to smear and slander China.”

China’s Public Security Bureau investigated the matter and in June 2019 Tian was detained “according to law”.

It is difficult to independently corroborate the story of Mr Tian, but regardless of how much information is true, distorted or manufactured, the article, published on various Chinese outlets, aims at spreading fear and paranoia with regards to Westerners and those who work for them, and at signalling that any critical reporting of the CCP regime will be deemed “anti-China”, possibly leading to severe penalties.

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