[section_tc][column_tc span=’12’][text_tc timing=’linear’ trigger_pt=’0′ duration=’1000′ delay=’0′]

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s cabinet on Wednesday released broad new definitions of conduct punishable under its three-year-old counter-espionage law, as China seeks to bolster its defence against threats to national security and social stability.

Over five years, President Xi Jinping has ushered in a flurry of new state security legislation to defend China from perceived threats both inside and outside its borders.

Rights groups and foreign governments have criticised the national security laws as being written in such a way to allow the party state to target activists or dissidents who challenge the Communist Party or call for political reform.

In new regulations on implementing a counter-espionage law first adopted in 2014, China’s state council expanded on the legislation to clarify, for example, that collusion involves any form of contact or assistance with groups that harm China’s national security.

The rules include behaviour, such as using religion or cults to harm national security, that go beyond standard definitions of espionage, namely the practise of obtaining information about a foreign government by spying.

The state council rules say that “hostile groups” include any groups that challenge the power of the Chinese Communist Party or the “socialist system”.

Foreign individuals or groups who fabricate or distort facts and issue information that harms China’s national security can be punished, as can people who do not listen to advice and meet individuals that harm national security, according to the new regulations.

The government can block foreign individuals suspected of endangering national security from entering China, and Chinese nationals suspected of “betraying the motherland” can be detained, they say.

Foreign individuals who are expected of spying can be prevented from leaving China for a “fixed” period, while those expelled for the same charges can be banned for ten years.

The rules come into effect immediately.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd, Michael Martina and Beijing newsroom