Confusion clouds China’s social credit system
Published on: Saturday, September 07, 2019
Text Size:

File photo shows traffic policemen stopping a group of people riding bicycles in Shanghai in August of 2017.
BEIJING: From penalising irresponsible dog owners to blacklisting dissenters, critics warn China’s social credit system enables authorities to define “desirable and undesirable behaviour” and could allow unprecedented control of citizen’s lives. 

The fledgling initiative has sparked fears the authoritarian state is tightening its grip on an already heavily monitored public, ensuring that only those strictly adhering to Communist Party values can prosper.

The scheme, which China’s State Council wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, aims to assess individual actions across society, effectively standardising conduct through rewards and deterrents.

“It’s a new type of totalitarian society control that allows officials unparallelled scrutiny over every minute of everyone’s life,” warned dissident writer Ye Du.

But so far, experts say there is no unified system in place and cities and villages have different criteria for measuring good or bad behaviour or “trustworthiness” as well as varying incentives and punishments.

Those with “good credit” have better chances of securing a government job or a prized seat at a public kindergarten for their toddler in Beijing. But in the small city of Qinhuangdao, the reward for good behaviour is a “model citizen’s certificate” and a free annual medical check-up.

“One big myth is that there will be a single score for all citizens,” said Jeremy Daum, a Chinese law expert at Yale. 

“Social credit isn’t really about a credit score at all, in fact it’s... a vague idea that covers a wide variety of regulations—the unifying feature in them all, to the extent that there is one, is that keeping records will help make people more honest and reduce misconduct,” he wrote on his blog China Law Translate, that collates all government documents relating to the system. 

Shazeda Ahmed, a PhD student at Berkeley who is studying China’s social credit system, agreed, explaining that currently there is only a “hodgepodge of local pilot projects without any clear definitions of what a nation-wide system would look like.”

“The government is itself unsure and is still in the process of figuring out what such a system can accomplish and what its limits are,” Ahmed added. 

In 2018, authorities banned millions with bad social credit from taking flights or trains, according to the National Public Credit Information Center. 

Chinese actress Michelle Ye Xuan was among those affected. Ye was stopped from boarding a flight in March for failing to follow a court order after being found guilty of defaming a former lover of her then-boyfriend. Her Beijing-based publicist said the ban was lifted after the court told her to apologise. – AFP


Other News

Follow Us  

Follow us on            

World Top Stories