BEIJING - China's parliament adopted Wednesday a bill to revise its counterespionage law, broadening the scope of what constitutes spying activities, according to Chinese media, in a move that could increase restrictions for expatriates and foreign companies in the Communist-ruled country.
Currently, the law targets the guarding of state secrets, but the amendment will make it possible for Chinese authorities to crack down on stealing and disseminating "documents, data, materials and items related to national security and interests," the media reported.
The legislation, endorsed at the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, newly covers cyberattacks on state organizations and key infrastructure by "spying entities and their agents" as part of Beijing's efforts to bolster cybersecurity.
The move has raised fears among foreigners in China as the definition of national security remains unclear, allowing authorities to implement the law arbitrarily.
In China, it is customary for allegations concerning national security not to be released and trials are closed to the public. Even after rulings are finalized, the details usually are not announced.
The maximum punishment under the national security law is death.
In March, a senior employee of Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc. was detained by China on suspicion of engaging in spying activities, but it remains unknown how he allegedly violated the law.
The Japanese government has called for his immediate release. Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tuesday that Tokyo "closely monitors with great interest" any changes to China's counterespionage law.
Since the counterespionage law came into force in China in 2014, 17 Japanese citizens have been detained for their alleged involvement in spying activities. Five of them are still being held, according to the Japanese government.