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Surveillance as Policy: The Chinese roots of Covid Passports

Among the terms you may have heard during discourse on what a ‘post Covid’ society might entail is the idea of Social Credit. This has been referenced in regard to the proposed use of vaccination certificates, but also linked to the concept as it is applied in China.

The first thing to be clear about is that it has nothing to do with the theory of Major C.H. Douglas which promoted an entirely different set of notions under that rubric in the 1920s and 30s.

The Chinese scheme seeks to create an entire database of its population which is searchable through fingerprints and other biometrics. One commentator has described it as a mechanism for “pre-empting instability” and in its cruder forms has been deployed against the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and other internal “dissidents.”

Following a number of pilot schemes, the Chinese Communist Party adopted in 2014 this as an objective to be universally in place by 2020. Apparently the Central Committee revised that in January this year to 2025. To that end it has at its disposal information feed from hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras, as well as mobile phone and internet monitoring.

That has been fed into the pre-existing dang’an dossier held by the Party on every person, compiled through information from state officials, informers, work places and even family members. Biometrics allied with such personal files means that every Chinese person is stamped with the human equivalent of a barcode which allows instantaneous access by the state to everything there is to know about them.

The roots of this, and the apparent compliance of the population, lie in what Shosanna Zuboff describes in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (written as it happens just before the Covid panic) as a “pandemic of social distrust.” This is a hangover from generations of mass and sometimes apparently random state terror. Not surprisingly, many Chinese people prefer the “softer” totalitarianism enabled by technology to what took place during the Cultural Revolution for example.

Social credit is based on a whole range of inputs which include spending, work, musical preferences, family background, friendships, and so on. These are rated to determine whether a person is “socially reliable”. A low rating can mean that an individual is subject to restrictions; ranging from use of credit at the benign end, to potential loss of employment, travel rights or even imprisonment towards the other end.

People, of course, are aware of this, and whereas in the past, a person might have been guarded in what they might have said, now they know they are potentially never beyond the technological reach of the Party. Imagine what consequences that will have for human psychology.

It would seem that this is true even of Chinese citizens living in the west. According to a report by the Gatestone Institute, a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, Canada is the site of a scheme to extend the CCP’s reach technologically overseas. Now it is no longer dependent on human information supplied by those placed among every grouping of Chinese people living abroad – including in this country.

The Haidilao restaurant in Vancover, which is the location for several Chinese corporations including Huawei, apparently has 60 cameras with live feeds to China. In this way, Chinese people who use the restaurant can be monitored even when they are socialising, with the information being used to modify their social credit rating, and that of their families and friends at home.

Sky News host Cory Bernardi said the Vancouver Haidilao Hot Pot was one of a chain of 935 around the world restaurants “frequented by diplomats, politicians and business professionals where business deals, strategies, and secrets could be discussed”.

“Nothing to worry about there I am sure… just your private dinner conversation and biometric details being sent back to the biggest surveillance state in history,” he commented.

In this photo of the interior of the Haidilao Hot Pot restaurant in Vancouver, where over 60 surveillance cameras are installed, two for each table and in staff areas. Image source: Ita Mitchell

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The people who have designed this naturally pitch it as something meant to improve everyone’s lives. The CEO of Seasame Capital Lucy Peng which was responsible for one of the pilot projects that were adopted by the Chinese state, described the objective as being to ensure that “bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely.” Now that seems to ring a bell..

Western corporations which not only seek to benefit materially from all of this, but whose Wokeness persuades them that social credit is a good thing anyway, naturally defend the Chinese hyper Nanny Statism with their usual dissimulation. A member of the board of Goldman Sachs described it in the Washington Post in 2018 as “social trust.”

There is also the usual nonsense about Chinese people having “different cultural expectations.” A notion that the Corporate Woke have picked up from the intellectually bankrupt left who have defended every red thug from Lenin to Castro and Xi on the basis that Russians and Cubans and Chinese people don’t really like voting, or being allowed to leave their own country, or read whatever book they wish.

The left’s hankering for all of this and the attractions of social credit are already apparent in their musings on “post covid society.” It is sometimes forgotten that the original socialist vision, as “scientifically” amended by Marx and Engels was that of Fourier and Robert Owen. Their plan was to turn people into the human equivalents of bees or ants, living in Phalansteries where every aspect of their lives would be monitored and modified. All for their own good of course, and like battery hens, they would be happy once their “basic needs” were looked after. After all if you have a “right” to housing, work, beer money and a phone, sure what else would you need?

The extent to which the Covid restrictions are encouraging this to be extended way beyond your usual suspects, is indicated by a whole raft of proposals to try and limit a person’s use of their own money for example. Many western states now feel that it is their responsibility to raise the price of alcohol or burgers or limit people’s betting.

The question facing open societies now, is where we are at on a continuum of increased surveillance. The proposal for vaccination certs as framed clearly goes beyond the immediate issue of the covid vaccine. Indeed, the EU legislation as drafted potentially makes such certification open ended. Will it become another passport, and what other information may be required in the future if a person is to be “allowed” to do mad things like get a train or an airplane?

The ubiquitous World Economic Forum is certainly persuaded of the merit of such controls and makes no secret of its admiration for the Chinese model. Its planned Davos Summit in June was deferred but it still held an almost unreported virtual event in January which had 1,700 participants from 80 different countries including government leaders, heads of corporations and NGOs. Perhaps a look at the Irish participants might be worth doing.

It was addressed by climate hysteric and serial busted flush John Kerry who assured the great and the good that his boss Joe Biden was fully committed to “build back better.” Among the craziness which these characters committed us to is the achievement of a “zero emissions” economy. Except not for China of course, because we have “different cultural expectations” of the Chinese Communist Party and its coal guzzling factories it would seem.

In conclusion, while China might be a bit down the road in terms of social credit and universal surveillance, it’s possible that the west is sleepwalking into a similar scenario. As Rogier Creemers of Oxford University said a few years ago, “perhaps the most shocking element of the story is not the Chinese government’s agenda, but how similar it is to the path technology is taking elsewhere.”

We are all familiar with “shadow text,” which is the means by which internet use can be monitored. This explains not only why your posts on certain topical matters might not reach much of an audience, but also why putting up something about your dog or cat will lead to your receiving unsolicited ads for everything from tee shirts with your dog’s name, to dog hotels, and invitations to join dog groups where other people discuss buying dogs, vets, dog food brands and so on.

Such is the smiley face of technological snooping. The social media bans and censorship not so much. The question is, how long before the “great achievement of General Secretary Xi” is replicated outside of China? And how might it be impeded?

 

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