Can China Quantify Trust?

The National Development and Reform Commission Aim to Rank Citizen's Trustworthiness with Social Credit Scheme

11.06.2018 | by Kezia Parkins
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China continues its implementation of the “social credit system”. Initially launched in 2014, this platform will rank the trustworthiness of its 1.4 billion citizens by 2020, with a new campaign aimed at the country’s youth. Effects of the scheme are already being felt by those who are scoring low on its ratings, as they have been unable to buy transportation tickets, register for dating sites and plan social events.

The Black-Mirror-style punishments have already affected 12 million people for their allegedly bad behaviour. Nine million of those people were stopped from travelling on domestic flights, and three million were prohibited from buying business class tickets on trains. Reasons for these bans spanned from obstructing footpaths to unpaid fines.

The main philosophies of the scheme are outlined in the government’s 2014 publicly released, Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System. The document says the initiative hopes to enforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful” and adds that the objective is to “raise the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society”. The overall goal is to build a “harmonious socialist society”.

The document was put together by the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, of which Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and President of China, is the leader. The deputy leaders of this group include Li Keqiang, the Premier of the State Council of the PRC and head of government; Wang Huning, a leader within the CPC; and Han Zheng, who was appointed as First Vice Premier of the State Council in March 2018. To gain membership to the commission, officials must at least be at the level of deputy national leader.

The project aims to be fully implemented and functional by 2020 and is mandatory for citizens. The specifics of the government rating system’s methodology is kept secret, but some examples have been uncovered. Examples of punishable behaviour include bad driving, smoking in non-smoking areas, purchasing too many video games, posting fake news articles or just spending too much time on social media.


Citizens in need of tickets may struggle
Source: Huffington Post

People with bad ratings would not be allowed to work in management jobs and could find themselves unable to book certain hotels. A sort of blacklist of names, which the government intends to publicly release, is already in the works, highlighting those who are not to be trusted.

The scheme also appears to have its benefits, as few as there may be. People with good ratings on the system will be more likely to get matches on Baihe, China’ biggest dating website. For those who live in Rongcheng, they could get discounts on utility bills, better interest rates at banks and be able to rent property without putting down a deposit.

The government released another document in late 2016 entitled, Opinions Concerning Accelerating the Construction of Credit Supervision, Warning and Punishment Mechanisms for Persons Subject to Enforcement for Trust-Breaking. That is quite a mouthful, but what is immediately eye-catching is the repeated use of the word propaganda under the “Strengthening organisation and implementation” section.

It seems that those who were unfortunate enough to make it onto this blacklist should expect to be paraded as public enemy number one. According to the document, there will be an aim to “strengthen propaganda concerning the name list for persons subject to enforcement for trust-breaking and credit punishment, fully give rein to the role of news media in propaganda, supervision and public opinion guidance”. The word propaganda means there is inherent bias in the information. Promoting that the media spread propaganda aimed at “untrustworthy” citizens is nothing short of an Orwellian witch hunt.  

As more developments come to light about the application of this social credit scheme, it will be interesting to see how China quantifies the success of this big-brother-type program. The CPC is hoping the youth that will buy into it due to the program’s new promotional campaign.

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"Breakthroughs have been made in developing the social credit system. Going forward, the system needs to be improved in key areas in response to specific needs...The priority now is to improve our business environment with stronger measures against cheating in marketplace, such as counterfeiting, and infringements of intellectual property rights."
- Li Keqiang, the Premier of the State Council of the PRC and head of government

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