China declares a new era of digitization has begun

Xi's vision for once-in-a-lifetime transformation includes singular identity cards, shared data, and huge clouds


China's president Xi Jinping has declared "there can be no modernization without informatization,” and outlined a strategy for how the world's most populous nation will use information technology to transform society and government.

A document posted by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) quotes Xi as saying "informatization has brought a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the Chinese nation" and outlines a range of digital transformation tasks that must be achieved under the 14th five year plan (2021–2026) to achieve the desired level of digitization.

One development touted as enabling Chinese society to reach its next level of digitization is the creation of a "one card" which will expand on China's existing digital social security card that serves in employment and social insurance matters. The proposed card will add integration of government services, medical and drug purchases, subsidy management and more.

The plan is for the card to run on a mooted "big platform" that uses blockchain and extensive data sharing to link government applications such as social security, the labor market, and health services.

A single portal for accessing government digital services is also envisioned.

To further tap digital potential, the country will rely on big data – which China also intends to improve, according to the document. Improvement will come in the form of collection and aggregation, sharing, and digitizing historical data to form a national unified application resource.

These electronic libraries are imagined to provide services like data comparison, status verification, identification pictures and trend analysis, with data shared across departments and businesses.

The last two goals are to improve the service levels and security of newly integrated digital systems, and thereby encourage citizens to use more online services.

Beijing wants all of this accessed with a network security protection system that adapts to the times – offering peerless data security and personal privacy.

The CAC had a busy Thursday, as it also warned it would continue its crackdown on livestreamers – the infomercials that have become a big feature of Chinese e-commerce. Those who falsify viewer counts for sales data will be punished, while people paid to ghost write online comments or set up online rumors will face deeper scrutiny. Meanwhile banned livestreamers who are judged by the CAC to flaunt social norms will be prevented from returning to their platforms.

The CAC flagged that it is planning to look more closely not only at those who game the algorithms for their own nefarious benefit, but also at the algorithms themselves. It is indeed a brave new world. ®

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