Controlling China’s Digital Ecosystem: Observations on Chinese Social Media
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Nowhere is the effort to control the flow of digital information more extensive and sustained than it is in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses a wide range of tools and strategies to achieve two related, but distinct, goals of digital information control: to shape public knowledge and to “guide” the public in the aftermath of sudden, unexpected events. Controlling social media is especially relevant to the second goal, and the CCP uses strategies of content removal (censorship) and content generation (propaganda) to pursue this aim. Recent studies of the Chinese internet and social media show that the CCP has adapted quickly to new digital communication technologies, though it is in sometimes unexpected ways, and CCP control of Chinese social media is integral to its efforts to shape public beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
China's 2021 Data Security Law: Grand Data Strategy with Looming Implementation Challenges
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
China’s 2021 Data Security Law (DSL) presents a transformative vision of the country’s data management practices to intensify domestic oversight and expand international influence. However, the law’s limitations with respect to implementation present a challenge for both domestic regulators and multinational corporations. The law’s requirement that individual regions and industrial sectors determine their own data security enforcement measures sets up the potential for competition among agencies. At the same time, its international scope raises questions for domestically focused agencies charged with enforcement and multinational firms seeking to comply with the law. This article argues that understanding the law’s broader implications will require tracing the implementation practices of regions and industrial sectors based on a case study of the automotive sector.
The Not-so Model Minority: Xi Jinping’s Mongolian Crackdown
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Xi Jinping and the party Center in Beijing are in the midst of a far-reaching rectification campaign in Inner Mongolia. The introduction of new textbooks and putonghua-medium education in Mongolian schools led to widespread civil disobedience in September 2020. Order was quickly restored, and international media attention turned elsewhere. But what followed was a systematic campaign to strengthen central party controls and Han-defined cultural and ideological norms. In this article, I unpack Beijing’s toolkits of control and transformation in Inner Mongolia, and foreground both the regional variation yet also the steady path toward Xi Jinping’s dream of a new Han colonial empire.
The CCP’s Domestic Security Taskmaster: The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party oversees the vast coercive apparatus of the party-state. Its main responsibilities include providing policy proposals on domestic security, supervising implementation of the party’s domestic security agenda, coordinating the actions of law enforcement and the judiciary, and ensuring the political loyalty of officials in law enforcement agencies. In the 1980s, the most open period in post-Mao China, the role and power of the commission were limited. But as the CCP leadership became more conservative in the post-Tiananmen period, the commission was granted more power to strengthen domestic security. It is now the CCP’s principal enforcer to maintain the supremacy of the party over the state’s coercive apparatus and an essential institution in organizing surveillance, supervising campaigns of repression, and providing for public safety.
Threading the Needle: Balancing Security and Development in the 14th Five-Year Plan
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Due to the deterioration of China’s external environment in general, and its escalating tensions with the United States in particular, the Chinese government has readjusted its economic development strategy. As delineated in Beijing’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which was unveiled in mid-March of this year, China will invest in efforts designed to strengthen its economic security and better protect its economy from external economic threats. These initiatives include science and technology self-sufficiency, secure supply chains in its manufacturing economy, growth sustained by domestic demand, and food and energy security. Although these efforts seem attractive on paper, China will likely encounter immense challenges in trying to implement its new development strategy. Chinese leaders may have underestimated the potential costs of strengthening national security at the expense of global integration. Beijing’s disappointing records in executing industrial policy and rebalancing its economy also raise doubts whether it will be able to meet its ambitious goals.
China’s Climate Strategy
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Chinese president Xi Jinping has put forth a set of significant commitments in response to the threat of global climate change. He has called for China to achieve peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, to enhance the role of renewable energy in its energy mix, to increase forest cover, and to make use of market mechanisms, such as an emissions trading system, to incentivize industry to decarbonize. Several of these initiatives, however, face design and implementation weaknesses that raise questions about their efficacy. In addition, the international community and the Chinese expert and NGO communities have called on Beijing to provide a more detailed action plan with benchmarks for realizing its climate targets and to end the export of coal plants through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. China’s climate commitments are notable, but ultimately, its efforts will be judged by the results.
Grid Management: China’s Latest Institutional Tool of Social Control
Monday, March 1, 2021
The Chinese government began to implement a new form of social control – grid management – about fifteen years ago. On paper, the country has largely finished setting up more than one million grids in local communities. Grid management, which entails dividing communities into small units (1,000 residents per unit, as in most cases) and equipping them with information and surveillance technology, appeals to the top Chinese leadership because it promises to provide the party-state a new and more capable instrument of social control and delivery of public services. Publicly available materials suggest that most localities adapt their existing local organizations, such as neighborhood and village committees, into grids to comply with the central government’s order. As fully effective grid management requires enormous investments in well-trained manpower and reliable technology, it will likely take years for China to build such a system. At the moment, only wealthy cities seem to have made genuine progress in the development of grid management, while most grids are likely no more than relabeled neighborhood committees. Like China’s social credit system, grid management is evidence, but not yet reality, of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s aspirations to construct a well-organized and technologically sophisticated surveillance state.
Xi’s Anti-Corruption Campaign: An All-Purpose Governing Tool
Monday, March 1, 2021
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign has attracted attention because of its high-profile investigations and arrests, but it has also advanced government policies in areas beyond corruption control. This article discusses the campaign’s recent developments and how the party leadership has used it as an all-purpose tool for governing during Xi’s second term. Since the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the campaign has become more institutionalized and has brought down even more high-ranking officials. At the same time, the Xi administration has used anti-corruption work to support a wide range of recent policies and directives, such as the party’s anti-poverty and anti-crime initiatives. The administration’s sweeping inspections of party and state institutions have been integral to the anti-corruption campaign, but they have also aimed to improve general policy implementation, support organizational reforms, and ensure loyalty to Xi and the Chinese Communist Party. Governing through the campaign in this way has helped advance Xi’s political vision, in which a strong and disciplined party leads the country and penetrates every area of China’s state and society.
The Saohei Campaign, Protection Umbrellas, and China’s Changing Political-Legal Apparatus
Sheena Chestnut Greitens
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
In January 2018 China began a three-year campaign, known as the saohei campaign, to crack down on “underworld forces.” A key emphasis of the campaign was its targeting of “protection umbrellas,” an effort to break the links between criminal organizations and their government and party protectors at the local levels. In the rhetoric of the campaign, “black and evil” underworld forces not only threatened the safety and finances of ordinary citizens but also infiltrated and weakened political authority, thereby damaging both social stability and the party’s ruling foundation. Saohei, therefore, is not only a cleansing of corruption at the grassroots levels but also a purification and re-strengthening of governance under party supervision. The campaign has resulted in the removal of a large number of personnel throughout the political-legal system, moving from initial removal of key leaders to lower levels of the system as the campaign has continued to unfold. It has also allowed local authorities to use the idea of “black and evil” to target specific local groups, from housing-demolition protestors to alleged “underworld forces linked to the Dalai Lama clique.” The saohei campaign will end early next year, but many of its key themes and foci will continue in the 2021 “education and rectification campaign” announced by Chen Yixin for the entire political-legal apparatus, suggesting that the party leadership perceives unfinished work within the political-legal apparatus. Xi Jinping, having already successfully replaced most of the leadership in the political-legal apparatus, now appears to be using saohei and its successor rectification campaign to push his authority down to lower levels of the political-legal system.
China’s Social Credit System: Genesis, Framework, and Key Provisions
Sunday, March 1, 2020
The Chinese government launched an ambitious program to build a social credit system in 2014. During the last six years, the State Council issued several key documents that seek to define the objectives and key parameters of such a system. Based on these documents and reports on the progress of the system in the media, it is evident that the Chinese government has made significant progress in conceptualizing and specifying the functionalities of its social credit system. At the moment, Beijing’s current approach remains experimental, seeking to gradually improve the design and capabilities of the system through trial-and-error at the local levels. Judging by the ambitious goals set forth in the State Council’s outline document issued in 2014, actual progress in building the system may be limited due to the immense technological and administrative challenges.
The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang
Friday, March 1, 2019
How do we explain the radical shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in the frontier region of Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are now interned in prison-like re-education camps? Based on a close reading of official sources, this article explores the evolution of China’s mass internment strategy and the key policy-drivers, institutions, and actors in Xinjiang policy over the last decade. It argues irrational fears of instability and dismemberment are driving the party’s unprecedented securitization and transformation strategy, with top party leaders convinced of the failure of ethnic accommodation and of the urgent need for increased inter-ethnic “blending” and “fusion.” Under Xi Jinping, Xinjiang has emerged as the party’s incubator for a more assertive and coercive form of nation-building and cultural re-engineering. The result is a surface level calm that hides deep social and psychological anxieties while at the same undermining cultural diversity and social trust.
Domestic Security in China Under Xi Jinping
Sheena Chesnut Greitens
Friday, March 1, 2019
Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, there have been major structural, legal, personnel, and policy changes to the CCP’s approach to domestic security. Xi has created new institutions, such as the Central National Security Commission and the National Supervision Commission, to improve coordination among the various agencies of the coercive apparatus and to tighten discipline and anti-corruption efforts within the party-state. The People’s Armed Police has also been restructured. Significant turnover of personnel has occurred within the domestic security agencies (including the leadership of both the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security), partly due to efforts to remove officials associated with Zhou Yongkang, former head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Meanwhile, a number of new laws on domestic security and the expansion of tech-based approaches to social control, such as grid management, represent attempts to strengthen the CCP’s ability to police contention within Chinese society. Finally, there has been a major shift in the CCP’s security strategy in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, resulting in heightened international scrutiny and attention. This article reviews these developments and their cumulative effect on domestic security in China under Xi Jinping.