The dance of dualities in the Chinese Social Credit

Unlike the conflicting nature of dual forces in western philosophy, traditional Chinese philosophy manifests this duality in the form of complementary and balancing forces exemplified in the Yin-Yang.

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leadership

Nishant Dilip Sharma, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Dualities have always held a prominent place in traditional Chinese philosophy. Unlike the conflicting nature of dual forces in western philosophy, traditional Chinese philosophy manifests this duality in the form of complementary and balancing forces exemplified in the Yin-Yang. The way in which the Chinese government has gone about experimenting and implementing the infamous Social Credit System in China is another duality at play.

What is being seen as the emergence of an Orwellian “Big Brother” age in China, is being carried out in several cities through a number of pilot projects running on a dual ‘carrots & sticks’ model. Just like any other ‘reward-punishment’ scheme, this programme offers certain incentives (carrots) to people complying with the expectations of the governing body and at the same time, has punitive sanctions (sticks) in place for non-compliance. Interestingly, the quality of the carrots and the size of the sticks has not been uniform across all pilots.

This arises from the fact that the implementation of pilot programmes is being undertaken in a two-pronged approach. At one end are the Government run mandatory SCS programmes that are operational in more than 43 Chinese cities. At the other end, there are the corporate-run Social credit systems. Unlike the Government SCS programmes (GSCS), the corporate ones (CSCS) are not mandatory. The CSC pilots do offer virtual and monetary rewards to their customers, however the real intent is to eventually become incorporated with the government’s plans. This way the corporate in question remains in the forefront when SCS is rolled out in a more comprehensive measure. Speaking of the sticks, punishments are harsher in GSCS than under CSCS. The carrots and sticks in the GSCS are in the form of ‘red-lists’ and ‘black-lists’ respectively. While one’s name in the ‘red-list’ would mean a special honor and privileged/subsidized access to public services, a name in the ‘black-list’ would mean lesser privileges or denial of certain privileges. This could mean low internet speed, ban from traveling, denial of bank loans, public naming and shaming, etc. In short, one’s social credit scores could have a great impact on his/her routine life and social reputation.

In a country which bears the tag of the most populous nation on Earth, such measurement of reputation scores for each individual is no small undertaking. This is accomplished through the creation of a systematic surveillance state where big data and artificial intelligence play a major role. Each camera captures the movement of every face and small offenses like jaywalking or walking your dog without a leash could result in an immediate fine from the government. Thus, surveillance in the eastern industrialized towns is associated more with governance and has helped bring down law enforcement costs and many governance issues.

In contrast, state surveillance in Xinjiang and Tibet is employed to address security concerns. Surveillance cameras here snoop into the personal lives of the inhabitants to stamp out any cultural expression. Any sign of resistance opens up the gates of re-education camps, the insides of which many have seen but few have come out to tell the story. Here state security is a priority while separatism is viewed as evil and surveillance becomes a tool. This dual nature of surveillance, that of governance in the eastern region and that of security in the western region, is another duality present in the Chinese system. This duality, however, begs to question the coherence of what China plans to achieve with a full-scale rollout of the SCS model in the entire Mainland China, which could be up and running as early as 2021.

These dual objectives, dual implementation models, dual outcome conditioning, raise multiple questions: Will China be successful at creating a reputation state amidst the incongruities that exist in China? The answer seems to be hooked to a second question: Will China be willing to respect the socio-geographic disparity present between the historically separatist western regions and the presently thriving eastern industrial hubs?

One way of doing so would be to prevent any punitive sanctions and credit reductions on the grounds of cultural suppression. A conundrum in the eastern region could be credit rating reductions caused due to systemic failures, human errors, or corrupt bureaucracy. As remediation mechanisms, legislations are being put in place to prevent such reputation harms. Shanghai’s local credit legislation passed in 2017 on the “right to be forgotten” provides a much-needed right to credit restoration and a reasonable requirement on administrative agencies’ query over citizens’ social credit information.

Such remediation mechanisms are also extended to cover data protection and norms for safe collection, processing and storage of personal data. These measures are limited to eastern cities like Hubei, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. The lack of such legal remedies in the GSCS pilots being run in the western region calls for a systemic shift in the way the pilots are being conducted. More polarized developments in the way the pilots are conducted could likely leave the western inhabitants estranged and brew discontent if the policy is applied without systemic planning and West-specific trials. Perhaps it’s time for the policymakers to take a hint from their traditional philosophies and create more balancing dualities than conflicting ones.

Limitations of the New Intellectual Property Reforms

Though reforms in IP remain a strong demand of the Trump administration, there exists a significant gap in the Chinese understanding of US requirements and the actual reforms being undertaken by the Chinese government towards that end.

beijing_ip_court
Beijing Intellectual Property Court

Kuldeep Saini, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

One of the major catalyst for the ongoing trade war between China and the United States is the question of Intellectual Property rights (IPR) protection to foreign firms in China. Even after months of discussions and negotiations, an agreement seems elusive. China recently imposed tariffs worth US$60 billion in retaliation to the tariff hike that had been imposed on Chinese goods by the US. The investigation report submitted by United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer on 22nd March 2018 cited Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974[1] to discuss China’s engagement in policy of transfer and theft of Intellectual Property (IP) technology from foreign firms. Ever since, China has committed to enhance its IP protocols by 2020 through the attainment of high levels of IP regulations on utilisation, administration, protection and creation.

The latest step in this regard are the amendments made to the Trademark Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 23 April 2019 at the 10th session of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC). Though reforms in IP remain a strong demand of the Trump administration, there exists a significant gap in the Chinese understanding of US requirements and the actual reforms being undertaken by the Chinese government towards that end.

This article discusses the constraints faced by the Chinese Government in deescalating the ongoing trade war with the US despite the it having undertaken three major intellectual property reforms. A discussion of the three reforms undertaken by the Chinese government follows.

First, the measures governing the transfer of intellectual property rights overseas were issued on 18 March 2018 by the State Council’s General Office. These reforms state the complete opposite of what the world understood by Trump’s claim of IP theft by China. The changes mandate the reduction in IP related theft by putting the onus on US firms that are in a merger with domestic Chinese companies. They fulfil the purpose of implementing the regulations and setting forth the procedures for overseas transfer of intellectual property for the foreign companies having mergers with the domestic companies. However, while China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) claims transfer of more than USD 4 billion intellectual properties from China, the numbers fail to reflect the home conditions for foreign companies. These structural changes fail to focus on the internal regulations of IP in China while considering the export of technology as a priority concern for the Chinese government.

The significant change is the involvement of relevant governmental departments like Forestry and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and departments looking at technology and agriculture in a more orderly and legal manner. This increases the processing time in receiving the patent rights. As of 2017, the total numbers of patent applications received in China were 1.2 million out of which only 3,26,000 were approved. These reforms further discourage the trade incentives of foreign companies to establish themselves in the Chinese market.

Second, the establishment of the appellate-level intellectual property tribunal on 1 January 2019 by the Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) reflects the concrete structural steps undertaken to strengthen the IP protection laws. According to Zhou Qiang (Chief Justice of SPC) there has been an increase of 41.8 per cent in the IP cases resolved in 2018 and the new IP court will add to these numbers. The major point of contention in the first quarter of the year highlights the lack of resources, enlisting of powers, persistence and professionalism in handling the IP cases of foreign companies. Another concern with the new IP court as stated is the unknown statistics about the IP cases of foreign firms that are currently under review. This creates an asymmetry of information for scholars and other countries attempting to analyse the efficiency of China’s IP Court.

The verdict of the first case in IP Court came out in just two trials embodying the idea of “protecting innovation innovatively”. However, the speed at which the decision was made led the foreign companies to fear that the verdict was pre-decided. This also raises the question of which court’s verdict has the final say in the IP matters as these cases are still being directed to the earlier SPC and not to the new IP Court. The development of a national level appeals court might prove to be insufficient to tackle the current situation for international businesses fear that their proprietary technology could be stolen at a regional level.

Third, the reforms in the Trademark Law and Anti-Unfair Competition Law issued on 23 April 2019 did not follow the usual process for public comments. The primary concern regarding these positive changes is whether they will be followed by the necessary laws on transparency of the enforcing and implementing agencies like National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) that still awaits additional clarifications related to administrative procedure regulations. This concern arises due to the inability of IP related cases that involve technical, confidential or business information that are not reported on public databases. It is hard for foreign companies to comply with the requirements raised by the new NPC reforms resulting in the current slowdown of foreign related cases. The reforms further fail to restrict the fraudulent activities such as claims of trademarks (TM) with bad faith and no commercial usage. The use of language in the recent reform of Article 4 highlights the need for commercial use of the trademark while applying. Thus, the US government and firms see these reforms as  a state encouragement for violating international intellectual property rights.

Overall, it can be accepted that China is firmly aiming to be the hub of technological innovation. But with the escalation of trade war with US (increasing tariffs to 25 per cent) has added heavy pressure on the Chinese government to negotiate the opening of the Chinese economy with effective protection to foreign technology. However, one has to agree that the current reforms fail to address the major US concern with respect to forceful technology transfers. The Chinese government needs to accommodate the international guidelines of relaxing contractual norms with respect to foreign companies in order to prevent the slowdown of its economy due to trade war.

[1] Section 301 authorizes the US President to take all appropriate action, including retaliation, to obtain the removal of any act, policy, or practice of a foreign government that violates an international trade agreement. Section 301 cases can be self-initiated by the (USTR). Thus, Trump initiated the tariff imposition on China.

Hanoi Summit: Limitation of ‘All for None’ Approach

The Hanoi Summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea on 27 and 28
February 2019 ended without any deal or joint declaration.

Sandip Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

hanoi

The Hanoi Summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea on 27 and 28 February 2019 ended without any deal or joint declaration. This is unfortunate given that the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had managed to at least bring out a joint declaration during their Singapore summit in June 2018. Although Trump left Hanoi after making many positive statements about Kim Jong-un and North Korea, North Korean official statement, which was released on late night of 28 February was sharper.

While Donald Trump’s press conference that was held in the immediate aftermath of the summit, attempted to convey that everything is not lost and there is still hope, North Korean statement was more accusatory and uncompromising. According to Trump, the US wanted North Korea ‘to do more’ but North Korea ‘was unprepared to do that’. In his interpretation of the North Korean position, Trump shared that North Korea wanted full reversal of the sanctions, which the US considered premature. However, he was still ‘optimistic’ and added that the US and North Korean visions were ‘a lot closer than it was a year back’. He announced the two countries would keep their relationship and especially since Kim Jong-un had assured him that regardless of anything, North Korea would not have rocket and nuclear tests. For Trump, the time was not appropriate for signing a deal currently, though he expressed that signing of a ‘deal is a process and it’s moving along’.

North Korea’s initial statement said that it had asked for only partial lifting of sanctions (only five which were brought in 2016 and 2017 out of overall 11 sanctions), which contradicted with the US claim that North Korea asked for the removal of all sanctions. Actually, North Korea had demanded for a step-by-step approach given the limited trust between the two countries and for the same reason had not put out its full list of demands at the Hanoi summit. North Korea considers removal of all sanctions and non-aggression guarantee as encompassing its full set of demands to the US. Hence, it stated that that even if only partial concession would have been agreed by the US, it was ready to ‘permanently and completely dismantle all of the nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area… in the presence of US experts’. It further agreed to commit to ‘permanent halt of nuclear testing and long-range rocket launch testing’ in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.

The US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun had stated in a conference on 11 March 2019 that the US was ‘not going to do (North Korea’s) denuclearization incrementally’. According to him, North Korea offered to eliminate part of its nuclear programme and in exchange asked for the lifting of ‘basically all’ of the international sanctions and it was not possible for the US to accept such a deal. North Korean version says that when the US demanded to ‘take one more step beside(s) the dismantlement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, it realized that the ‘US was not ready to accept our (its) proposal’.

A careful reading of various statements of the US and North Korea suggests that both the parties were asking for more and ready to give less to each other. Moreover, the US considered that even partial lifting of the sanctions might dilute the pressure from North Korea and thus, until full denuclearization of North Korea is not on the table, the easing of sanctions could be a bad strategy. Thus, the US was ready to compensate North Korea’s Yongbyon plus alpha offer by establishing liaison offices in each other’s capitals and having a peace declaration but not to ease sanctions.

For North Korea, without lifting some sanctions, all other American officers are insignificant and useless at this point. North Korea felt that at ‘the existing level of trust between the US and North Korea, there could not be a better agreement proposal’ which is incremental in nature.

Overall, it seems that there is some serious gap between the US and North Korea’s approach towards the denuclearization issue and in the last two weeks, loose statements from both the sides may have widened the gap further. Both the countries need to review their approaches and modify them to accommodate each other’s concerns, otherwise, the prophecy of North Korea might become true in which it said that ‘opportunity like Hanoi Summit might be difficult to come again in future’.

 

Wang Huning: China’s Amit Shah

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

If Shah’s job is to help Modi do the electoral math and draw up strategies to win elections, it is Wang’s job to help create the narrative that legitimizes Xi Jinping in power in an authoritarian system.

As the National People’s Congress in China cleared a constitutional amendment on Sunday allowing President Xi Jinping to remain president for life, here is a look at Xi’s closest confidante and politburo member Wang Huning, who is also known to be the brain behind President Xi.

Wang has been speechwriter and ideologue to three successive General Secretaries of the CPC –- Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and now Xi. Many key concepts for these three leaders have been fashioned and refined under Wang’s watch in the Party’s Central Policy Research Office since 2002 and later as a member of the Central Secretariat.

Indeed, one might wonder if China’s – and President Xi Jinping’s — slow turn towards a more assertive stance has not been influenced also by Wang’s personal ideological proclivities conveyed through the mouths of China’s leaders.

In practical terms, Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping what Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi. If Shah’s job is to help Modi do the electoral math and draw up strategies to win elections, it is Wang’s job to help create the narrative that legitimises Xi Jinping in power in an authoritarian system Continue reading “Wang Huning: China’s Amit Shah”

How must India deal with an all-powerful Xi Jinping?

Prof. Alka Acharya, Honorary Fellow, ICS & Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The question that had been the cause of much speculation and discussion since the 19th Communist Party Congress last October — ‘After Xi Jinping, Who?’ — has now seemingly been answered. Xi Jinping himself!

In fact, Xi’s continuation in power beyond two terms was widely anticipated when, as had been the practice since the political and administrative reforms had been introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, no successor was announced at the end of the 19th Chinese Communist Party congress.

Xi now proposes to overturn the practice, which had limited the top leader to two consecutive terms in office — and this will now be enshrined in the state constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Continue reading “How must India deal with an all-powerful Xi Jinping?”

A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 2

Kishan S. Rana (IFS Retd.), Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

China in Africa

As a second secretary at the Indian Embassy in 1963-65, I occasionally visited Peking University (Beida), always in the company of African diplomats, who went to meet students from their countries at that great institution. I sometimes accompanied a friend from the Egyptian Embassy, circumventing the tight surveillance that we as Indian Embassy officials faced. That first indirect exposure sparked my interest in Africa. Little did I anticipate that I would spend nearly ten years in Africa (Algeria, Kenya and Mauritius and, later Namibia).

How is China seen in Africa? Given that in 2016 China committed itself to US$100 billion by way of credits and loans for African states – significantly more than the World Bank – what has been the impact? Glib talk about neo-colonial actions aside, the reality is rather complex. Continue reading “A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 2”

India Becoming a Threat in Chinese Imagination

Hemant Adlakha, professor of Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

As the new year gets underway, and Chinese foreign policy analysts join their counterparts around the world in assessing the events of 2017, the emerging international relations (IR) discourse in Beijing is quite a revelation — at least to the Japanese and Indian strategic affairs community.

While most Chinese believe Japan to be the second biggest threat to China’s “peaceful rise,” according to a few Chinese experts, the rising global profile of India, especially under the “right-wing” nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has gone unacknowledged. Continue reading “India Becoming a Threat in Chinese Imagination”