In Depth

How China’s personal ‘social credit’ scores will work

Beijing authorities will punish or reward citizens according to their ratings under new points system

Authorities in Beijing will judge each of the Chinese capital’s 22 million residents on their “personal trustworthiness” under a points-based system to be launched by 2020. 

According to state media, the “Beijing Municipal Action Plan for Further Optimising the Business Environment” will monitor both individuals and companies’ financial credit and personal behaviour - and reward or punish them accordingly.

The plan does not include details about how the points system will work, but warns that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to move even a single step”.

Punishments for blacklisted citizens are “believed to include slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools for individuals or their children, banning people from certain jobs, preventing booking at certain hotels and losing the right to own pets”, The Independent reports.

A roadmap plan for a nationwide social credit scheme was first announced by the Chinese Communist Party in 2014, and around 30 local versions have been rolled out across the country, writes Daniel Sontag in an article on Medium.

Earlier this year, the government of Hangzhou province unveiled a trial scheme that rewards “pro-social” behaviors such as volunteer work, while punishing citizens who have bad credit or violate traffic laws, among other misdemeanours.

Meanwhile, in Jiangsu province, slandering someone online will slash 100 points from your “social score”, while manufacturing or selling fake products will lose you 35 points, according to Channel NewsAsia.

Government data shows that as of the end of May, citizens who scored poorly on the various schemes had been turned away from “more than 11 million flights and 4 million high-speed train trips”, Bloomberg reports.

Critics claims that social credit schemes are a covert means of helping the Chinese Communist Party increase its authoritarian grip on the country.

Samantha Hoffman, a consultant at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told Wired that the Chinese government could be using such systems to identify and punish dissidents, under the guise of improving society.

“That’s why social credit ideally requires both coercive aspects and nicer aspects, like providing social services and solving real problems,” Hoffman said. “It’s all under the same Orwellian umbrella.”

However, Foreign Policy’s Jamie Horsley says that lurid press reports of Black Mirror-style totalitarian surveillance are overblown.

The key aim of the social credit scheme is ensuring “compliance with legally prescribed social and economic obligations and performing contractual commitments” in a country “still beset by rampant fraud and counterfeiting”, he argues.

Individuals and companies are blacklisted for “specific, relatively serious offences like fraud and excessive pollution that would generally be offences anywhere”, Horsley adds.

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