Top Chinese official calls for increase in ‘propaganda of secrecy’ around energy sector

The director of China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has called on leaders of the nation’s energy industry to keep information about their sector under wraps.

“We must intensify the propaganda of secrecy, give full play to the fine tradition of secrecy in nuclear energy, petroleum and other energy industries, organize various activities, and actively cultivate a secrecy culture,” Zhang Jianhua said in a statement published on the NEA’s website on Wednesday.

Jianhua urged leaders in China’s energy sector to increase security around key infrastructure and prevent information leaks as well as the theft of industry technologies by “foreign hostile forces wanting to steal and attack.”

“They [foreign nations] are keeping a close eye on my country’s energy sector, stepping up the collection of various data and information in order to distort and slander my country’s energy strategic planning, transformation and development, and interfere with our hard-won security and stability,” the director said.

Jianhua noted that his agency would be stepping up “daily confidentiality inspections” in the energy sector, looking to prevent information leaks, and asked that industry leaders increase confidentiality law training for employees in response. 

The push for more secrecy in the energy sector isn’t unexpected. China’s economy has become increasingly opaque in recent years, with Beijing slowly pausing the publication of key data amid a slower than expected post-COVID recovery.

China’s ailing property sector, surging local government debts, plummeting loan demand, and the prospect of deflation have all spooked foreign investors this year. Chinese officials have responded by cutting interest rates to boost their flagging economy, but also by telling the nation’s economists and market analysts to avoid discussing negative economic trends. 

In its push for economic secrecy, Beijing has restricted or completely cut off overseas access to its patent data, corporate-registration information, procurement documents, and even parts of its academic database, China National Knowledge Infrastructure. It also halted the publication of youth unemployment data after the statistic hit a record high of 21.3% in June. 

Similarly, when the amount of land sold for development in China plummeted 50% in 2022, officials pulled that statistic from overseas data releases.

Despite the push for a culture of secrecy, Jianhua said that China’s energy sector still needs to “create an external environment conducive to international cooperation in energy.” China has been pushing for energy independence for years—President Xi Jinping even promised to “deeply promote the energy revolution” and “ensure the security of energy resources” at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October—but the nation still relies on imports for much of its needs.

The NEA director said that he is “soberly aware” that China still relies on foreign oil for as much of 70% of its needs and foreign natural gas for more than 40% of its needs. “Therefore, it is necessary to correctly handle the relationship between energy supply and energy security,” he said Wednesday, striking a more conciliatory tone.

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