What a new term for Xi Jinping means to China — and to Canada’s strategy for dealing with Beijing’s new authoritarianism, which is being challenged by China’s new president — is the “social credit system.”
In his first speech to parliament, though, Beijing’s president did not call his system a “social credit system.” Instead, referring to China’s “social credit”—the idea of tracking a people’s character using a range of government metrics and, when necessary, harsh penalties to remove negative signs—Xi said the system is “a new way to improve governance by introducing a culture of responsibility, self-control and self-reflection while creating a positive effect on the public psyche.”
What Xi called a “culture of responsibility” and what he has described as a “positive effect on the public psyche” is a more troubling and uncertain prospect than the “social credit” idea is likely to be.
The “social credit” system is widely expected to be a part of China’s new leadership style. Under the system, a series of metrics are used to assess the character of the citizenry and, in doing so, determine a person’s level of trustworthiness and thus, its level of acceptance into society. The measures include the public’s view of the government, its economic policy, its cultural values, its social behavior and its relationship with the rest of the population.
What China lacks is any way to know its true citizens or what their intentions are at any given time. If citizens’ behavior can be shaped to fit social demands, then this can, and will, have a chilling effect on democracy.
What could be worse for China than a totalitarian system where one person can determine one’s place in society and where one’s loyalty