Mon, Jun 24, 2019 - Page 7 News List

China’s most advanced Big Brother experiment is a bureaucratic mess

Suzhou is one of several Chinese cities running trial social-credit programs, and while its ‘Osmanthus’ program has won national awards, many of its residents have never heard of it

By Dandan Li and Sharon Chen  /  Bloomberg

“Government at all levels shouldn’t over-punish and infringe people’s privacy and legitimate rights,” Han said.

Another wrinkle is that many residents see more value in competing systems. At the 105-year-old Suzhou Library, citizens with high Osmanthus scores are supposed to be able to get longer book loan periods.

However, library staff said most people checked out books using their Zhima Credit number, a private credit score from Alibaba Group’s Ant Financial.

Few people even ask about their Osmanthus score.

“It’s more like a vanity project,” said Diao Yun, a Suzhou resident who works for a private company. “There’s no promotion of the system in the city — no billboards, no ads or public campaign as far as I see. It’s distant from people’s daily lives.”

Cities and officials looking to build and implement a social-credit system face a bewildering array of official guidelines and documents from China’s State Council and other central and regional government bodies.

Those rules relate to everything from assessing creditworthiness to punishing cultural performances on the internet that have a “heinous” social impact.

In Suzhou, the main roadblock to promoting the system is inter-department squabbling over data sharing and who will pay for perks, according to a report in the state-owned Suzhou Daily.

The paper said only 30 of the 70 departments are sending data directly to the platform, with others worried about transferring information without a legal requirement.

Those teething problems mean that many residents in Suzhou are unaware of the system. None of the staff questioned in the subway, parks and museum knew anything about the scoring system or alleged perks, such as priority non-emergency service at hospitals.

Another problem is at the national level. Xi and his team are engaged in an escalating trade war with US President Donald Trump’s administration that threatens to further hurt growth as companies get caught in the line of fire.

It is not a priority among China’s top leaders to push through a nationwide social-credit scoring system now, even if Suzhou and other localities can set up workable models, said Zhang Jian (張健), an associate professor of government at Peking University.

“President Xi and his government have been caught up ‘fire fighting’ internal and external pressures since last year,” Zhang said. “I doubt the party leaders are willing to expend the time, energy and political capital to roll out the plan.”

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