CHINA’S PAPER DYSTOPIA

CHINA’S PAPER DYSTOPIA

Few issues generate as much concern about our technologically-driven future as China’s ambitious social credit system.


In case you haven’t heard, China wants to build a giant database to track the behavior of its 1.3 billion-plus citizens. It then plans to reward “sincere” or “trustworthy” conduct, such as paying bills on time, while punishing bad actions, like jaywalking or ignoring a court judgment – all in the name of creating a more harmonious society. Beijing’s vision has sparked all sorts of breathless headlines and comparisons to Black Mirror or the all-seeing Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.

Here are three things to keep in mind as you ponder what it all means.

China has a real problem it is trying to solve: how to effectively govern a sprawling country of 1.3 billion increasingly demanding citizens, where tax evasion, fraud, and other social ills are rife. Sure, Beijing is doing so in a top-down, authoritarian fashion. But as much as people might be creeped out by the fact that their government is publicly shaming jaywalkers by posting their photos on billboards, its approach could prove widely popular if it makes the country easier to govern and improves people’s lives.

The system is more human than you think: China’s tech-driven totalitarianism isn’t as tech-savvy as it appears. Chinese authorities may be using sophisticated facial recognition software to corral Uighurs, an ethnic minority group concentrated in the country’s northwest, but jaywalkers whose faces show up on billboards in Xinjiang are still picked out of the crowd by flesh-and-blood people. There is real potential for this system to be used to stifle dissent on an unprecedented scale with as-yet undeveloped technologies that can then be exported to governments around the world. But there’s a huge gap between China’s ambitions to make the system work reliably at the scale of a billion-plus people and where the technology is today.

This is already happening to you, dear reader: Here in the West, it’s corporations (not the government) that control the keys to a massive surveillance machine. We’re accustomed to credit bureaus tracking our every financial move, employers conducting background checks, social networks and search engines scooping up our personal information, and ride-hailing apps asking us to rate the quality of our drivers. China’s plans for a surveillance state may be startling to Western observers, but they’re driven by the same underlying trend: using massive amounts of personal data to shape how people behave. There are big differences around who determines what happens with that data, and how that authority is regulated, of course. But China’s social credit experiment is not totally without competition.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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