Following a video I saw on twitter about how the Chinese government is tackling the coronavirus outbreak, I thought it would be apt to write about the fusion of technology and politics in its response. Also, if you know me, you know that I am super interested in Chinese politics (currently taking a Politics of Contemporary China module at university this year) and technology alike. The Chinese government is employing all kinds of surveillance technology in a bid to combat the virus, here’s a list of a few things they are doing (Sources: Reuters, Aljazeera, Business Insider, CNBC):
1. The Chinese government arguably has the worlds most sophisticated surveillance system. It is mobilising its surveillance technologies to monitor and track the spread of the disease.
2. The government is working with major tech giants like WeChat, which combines social media and payment services, to track the movement of its citizens. On the app, users put their Chinese ID numbers and their travel history and are then given a colour coded risk of infection.
3. They are also working with AI companies, notably Megvii, to develop solutions which will integrate body detection, face detection and dual-sensing via infrared cameras and visible light. This will help staff in public spaces like train stations and airports, to identify people with high body temperatures.
4. In provinces that have been put under an official lockdown, they have been using drones to monitor movement and tell people to go indoors or put on masks if they are outside for mandatory activities.
I think that it is really important to consider the kind of political system in which China operates and how that has impacted its ability to combat the virus. China is an authoritarian, one party, state. There is no opposition to its power and so the Chinese government, led by the CCP, can implement such draconian policies with no real threat to its power. While these measures seem extreme, the official rhetoric is that they are working. Today, China Daily reported just 14 new cases and we have seen a drastic reduction in the official number of cases in the past month. However, given China’s political system, its formidable levels of censorship and history of fact manipulation, we have reasons to doubt these numbers. A few weeks ago, Business Insider released an article which claimed that China concealed the extent of the virus outbreak. According to US intelligence, China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete. It highlighted the fact that the country has only reported about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths. But in a country with a population of over 1 billion, one cannot help but wonder if this is a true picture of the situation in China.
Nonetheless, we cannot negate the effectiveness of technology in the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak. It will be interesting to see how far the government is willing to go in terms of data collection on its citizens and how it will continue to mobilise surveillance technology to combat future threats.
Written by Gbemi Anifowose-Eso, Logistics Executive