The spy who loved me? Chinese warned off dating foreigners

Updated 2:57 AM EDT, Thu April 21, 2016
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Story highlights

Propaganda cartoon warns Chinese women against dating foreign men who may turn out to be spies

Poster part of campaign for new National Security Education Day

Campaign comes as man sentenced to death for leaking documents to foreign power

(CNN) —  

China’s government workers are being warned off dating handsome foreigners – because they may be potential James Bonds.

A 16-panel comic book-style poster that’s been widely displayed across Beijing tells the story of an attractive young female civil servant – Xiao Li or Little Li – who is wooed by a red-haired foreigner posing as a visiting scholar.

The scholar, named Dawei or David, showers her with compliments, red roses, fancy dinners and romantic walks in the park, and convinces the girl to provide him with internal documents from her government propaganda workplace.

Xiao Li initially declines to hand over the documents but David manages to convince her. Xiao Li is later taken away by security officials and the girl finds out that her boyfriend was a foreign spy.

Beijing has launched a new campaign this month to raise awareness about “national security” and the cartoon comes the same week Chinese state media reported that a man convicted of leaking more than 150,000 classified documents to an undisclosed foreign power had been sentenced to death.

National security campaign

Xi Jinping: The power and fragility of China’s leader

With “Ministry of State Security” written at the bottom, the cartoon poster appeared to be part of a range of more than 100 promotional materials released to coincide with China’s first “National Security Education Day” on April 15, according to a notice posted on one Beijing district website.

The poster also provided a hotline to call. CNN called the number four times but no-one answered – save for an automatic welcome message.

The posters have to be posted on all bulletin boards and community leaders will be trained with “counter espionage knowledge,” the notice said.

“Everyone in the community should be urged to increase their sensitivity and level of awareness to national security, as well as be political sensitive.”

DAVID: "Dear, do you still need to keep secrets from me? I
DAVID: "Dear, do you still need to keep secrets from me? I'm just taking a look to for my academic articles," XIAO LI: Uh, OK then.
PHOTO: Anna Kook/CNN

Campaign greeted with disbelief, ridicule

On the streets of Beijing, few seemed to be taking the cartoon’s message seriously.

“We don’t actually believe this. A lot of our friends have foreign boyfriends, and we would never believe that they are spies,” said Tou, a female student who only gave her family name.

Another woman surnamed Wang also doubted the poster’s credibility.

“Isn’t this supposed to be a joke? I mean this kind of stuff can happen anywhere I guess.”

Man in uniform: "Are you Xiao Li? We are from the State Administration of National Security, please come with us. Xiao Li: What? What
Man in uniform: "Are you Xiao Li? We are from the State Administration of National Security, please come with us. Xiao Li: What? What's going on?
PHOTO: Anna Kook/CNN

But the Chinese government’s push for greater security awareness shouldn’t be taken lightly says, William Nee, Amnesty International’s China analyst.

Huang Yu, the man sentenced to death for leaking classified documents, was shown shackled in chains on national television.

“The government hopes to send out a signal of deterrence to warn anybody who may be in a similar position of disclosing state secrets to foreign organization, while at the same time, giving the general public the perception that spies and potential spies may be in their midst, right at their side,” Nee said.

“This idea of spies being everywhere, common to China in the Mao era, to some extent, is now helping to increase paranoia and suspicion in society, and even greater xenophobia,” he added.

Yuli Yang and Katie Hunt contributed to this report