China blacklists millions of people from booking flights as 'social credit' system introduced

Officials say aim is to make it ‘difficult to move’ for those deemed ‘untrustworthy’

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 22 November 2018 12:50
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What is China’s ‘social credit’ rating system?

Millions of Chinese nationals have been blocked from booking flights or trains as Beijing seeks to implement its controversial “social credit” system, which allows the government to closely monitor and judge each of its 1.3 billion citizens based on their behaviour and activity.

The system, to be rolled out by 2020, aims to make it “difficult to move” for those deemed “untrustworthy”, according to a detailed plan published by the government this week.

It will be used to reward or punish people and organisations for “trustworthiness” across a range of measures.

A key part of the plan not only involves blacklisting people with low social credibility scores, but also “publicly disclosing the records of enterprises and individuals’ untrustworthiness on a regular basis”.

The plan stated: “We will improve the credit blacklist system, publicly disclose the records of enterprises and individuals’ untrustworthiness on a regular basis, and form a pattern of distrust and punishment.”

For those deemed untrustworthy, “everywhere is limited, and it is difficult to move, so that those who violate the law and lose the trust will pay a heavy price”.

The credit system is already being rolled out in some areas and in recent months the Chinese state has blocked millions of people from booking flights and high-speed trains.

According to the state-run news outlet Global Times, as of May this year, the government had blocked 11.14 million people from flights and 4.25 million from taking high-speed train trips.

The state has also begun to clamp down on luxury options: 3 million people are barred from getting business class train tickets, according to Channel News Asia.

The aim, according to Hou Yunchun, former deputy director of the development research centre of the State Council, is to make “discredited people become bankrupt”, he said earlier this year.

The eastern state of Hangzou, southwest of Shanghai, is one area where a social credit system is already in place.

People are awarded credit points for activities such as undertaking volunteer work and giving blood donations while those who violate traffic laws and charge “under-the-table” fees are punished.

Other infractions reportedly include smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online.

Punishments are not clearly detailed in the government plan, but beyond making travel difficult, are also believed to include slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools for individuals or their children, banning people from certain jobs, preventing booking at certain hotels and losing the right to own pets.

When plans for the social credit scheme were first announced in 2014, the government said the aim was to “broadly shape a thick atmosphere in the entire society that keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful”.

As well as the introduction in Beijing, the government plans a rapid national rollout. “We will implement a unified system of credit rating codes nationwide,” the country’s latest five-year plan stated.

The move comes as Beijing also faces international scrutiny over its treatment of a Muslim minority group, who have been told to turn themselves in to authorities if they observe practices such as abstention from alcohol.

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Hami city government in the far-western Xinjiang region said people “poisoned by extremism, terrorism and separatism” would be treated leniently if they surrendered within the next 30 days.

As many as a million Muslim Uighurs are believed to have been rounded up and placed in “re-education” centres, in what China claims is a clampdown on religious extremism.

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