A innocuously named plan issued by the Guangdong provincial government ruffled feathers online after it recommended “accelerating” the adoption of China’s highly controversial “social credit system” in the Greater Bay Area — which, you might have heard, includes Hong Kong — sending the SAR government scrambling to put out a public relations fire today.
Point 75 of the “Three-Year Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area 2018-2020,” released on Friday, proposes boosting the planned super-region’s implementation of the social credit scheme, an unprecedented system of surveillance that assigns citizens overall rankings based on everything from the timeliness of debt repayment to whether they jaywalk.
“Accelerate the implementation of social credit system and market supervision system,” point 75 of the plan reads. “Formulate the social credit system in Guangdong Province. Investigate how to encourage businesses and enterprises in the [Pearl River Delta] to be trustworthy, and how to have punishments for dishonesty.”
Punishment for dishonesty, or some form thereof, is woven into the DNA of the social credit scheme, which seeks to rank citizens according to their trustworthiness, taking into account whether they have broken the law, spread rumors, or violated any financial contracts. While good scores entitle citizens to perks, bad scores can land them on a blacklist that bars them from accessing certain services, like booking flights or trains.
The suggestion that the scheme be implemented throughout the Greater Bay Area by 2020 probably could not have come at a worse time for Hong Kong, which has been rocked by weeks of massive protests that began in opposition to a controversial extradition bill that residents feared would entangle them in the mainland’s notoriously politicized courts. The movement has since morphed into one of general opposition to Beijing’s creeping influence and the erosion of Hong Kong’s special status.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Hong Kong netizens reacted with horror to any suggestion of importing a mainland-style social surveillance system to the SAR.
“What if we receive negative scores by joining a protest?” asked one netizen.
“Being a police = +1000000000000 points,” joked another, taking a potshot at the police force, which is deeply unpopular at the moment for its role in cracking down on the recent protests.
“This is a matter of human rights and privacy! How can the government do this?” another user asked.
Point 75 didn’t escape the notice of the Progressive Scholars Group, which mentioned it in a statement today among a litany of democratic setbacks suffered by the SAR in recent years, saying “Hong Kong’s autonomous status is on the brink of collapse.”
The statement goes on to urge Hongkongers to support a bill currently before the US Congress that would require the regular reevaluation of the US’s relationship with Hong Kong as “an effective check against further erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
Amid the prevailing atmosphere of fear of Beijing’s grasp — not to mention the distinctly anti-China tenor of recent mass demonstrations — the Hong Kong government moved quickly to assuage fears that the social credit system would be implemented in the SAR anytime soon.
“In response to claims made by Taiwan media reports and on some online platforms that the Mainland’s social credit system will be implemented in Hong Kong, a Government spokesman today (July 9) clarified that such claims are totally unfounded,” the government said in a press release this evening.
“Guangdong Province published a three-year action plan (2018-2020) for the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area on July 5, which mentioned, amongst other things, speeding up the establishment of the social credit system in Guangdong Province,” the statement quoted a spokesperson as saying. “The action plan will only be applicable to Guangdong Province. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will not implement the social credit system concerned in Hong Kong.”
Indeed, how such a move would even be enacted under the “one country, two systems” framework is unclear given Hong Kong’s independent legal system — not to mention the fierce public resistance to any perceived threat to the firewall between the SAR and the mainland evidenced by the anti-extradition protests.
But still, given the soaring mistrust between the government and the public at present, the implications of the Guangdong plan were enough to shock some. As one netizen put it: “I thought this would only happen on TV.”
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