How Surveillance is Used to Punish Nonconforming Citizens in China

The Chinese government is upgrading its surveillance efforts against key minorities, a recent report from Citizen Lab has discovered.

In September 2019, Apple Inc confirmed that the phones of mostly-Muslim minority, Uighurs – considered a terrorist and radical threat by the Chinese government – were hacked to monitor their community.

The Chinese hackers also spied on Tibetans in exile through their iPhone. The Citizen Lab report suggested that both attacks were carried out by the same hackers working with the Chinese government.

The report also suggested that the Chinese government may currently be upgrading its surveillance efforts against key minority groups, which it considers to be enemies of the state.

In China, it is not just minority groups who are under surveillance. By next year, every member of the population will be subject to the “social credit system”.

“I can’t buy property. My child can’t go to a private school,” Liu Hu, a journalist writing about censorship and corruption in China said. “You feel you’re being controlled by the list all the time.”

Hu was listed on a List of Dishonest Persons Subject to Enforcement by the Supreme People’s Court and was prevented from taking flights, because of his low social credit system.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to. What’s scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In April 2018, the Communist-ruled party boasted of blocking Chinese nationals from taking 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed rail trips. Deductions are made for bad behaviour, such as traffic violations or playing too much video games, while points are added for good behaviour, such as being a parent.

China aims to have about 626 million surveillance cameras in the country, to be used as part of the social credit system. Observed behaviour caught on camera, which are not in line with what the Community party deems “good”, decreases citizens’ social credit scores.

Xi Jinping aims for total control of his people’s political, mental and philosophical views. Political commentators have, however, argued that beneath Xi’s desire for totalitarianism is an insecure fear of dissent and political rejection from his supporters. To maintain his timeless rule as president, the social credit system punishes minor social and political dissent as small as jaywalking, and hands out rewards for total conformity to Communist ideals of good citizenship.

For Xi, the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong’s ideologies, will best lead China towards political and economic greatness in the eyes of the world.

“If at the time of reform Comrade Mao had been completely repudiated, would our party still be standing? Would our country’s system of socialism still be standing?” he asked the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee several days after becoming their general secretary.

“These things cannot be cut away from the entire history of our party and our country. To grasp this is to grasp everything. This is not just an intellectual issue—it is a political issue.”

Behind Xi’s ideologies for a great China lies fear of the outside world. Differing ideologies cannot be tolerated in Xi’s China. Although his family was persecuted, murdered and tortured – and he banished – during the Maoist era, Xi’s belief in the Maoist ideals of self-sacrifice for the greater good is demanded of his people. The Western culture of democracy, individualism and self-determination cannot be tolerated, neither can religious beliefs, feminist beliefs, human rights beliefs and many more.

Ironically, Xi’s family do not conform to ideals of self-sacrifice, amassing wealth for themselves in both China and offshore accounts.

“Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends, and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain,’’ he told officials during a 2004 conference call.

In a volume of his internal speeches, published in January 2016, titled: ‘Excerpts of Xi Jinping’s Remarks on the Strict Maintenance of Party Discipline’, Xi is highly critical of corruption in the Chinese political system.

“The higher the positions of power these people are in, they less seriously they take party political discipline, even to the point of recklessness and sheer audacity,” he writes.

“Some are inflated with a political will to power, entirely in the service of personal profits or the vested interests of their clique, running their plots and dealings outside existing party organizations that damage and split the party.”

It seems that, apart from Xi’s own family, conformity is an utmost requirement for everyone in China. Like most totalitarian leaders, China’s president is too hypocritical to follow his authoritarian ideologies.