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Being the origin country of the coronavirus currently sweeping the world, China was also the first to implement a string of surveillance strategies in order to combat the virus’ spread. Its most obvious – as has been adopted by countries the world over – is the lockdown; though Beijing’s rules were far stricter than, say, in the UK. There, Chinese citizens were monitored, and neighbourhood watch committees – emblems of a time before current president Xi Jinping – were established and told to report to their local authorities should they spot anyone leaving their homes.
In some instances, doors were boarded up, with people unable to leave their homes even if they wanted to.
The pandemic essentially gave Xi justification for a more intense top-down control than before; with public monitoring stations dubbed “war rooms”, mobile data cultivation and ID-linked tracing apps regimentally rolled out nationwide.
Even before the pandemic China was moving towards being a surveillance state, this most notable in regions like Tibet and Xinjiang, and more recently Hong Kong.
Beijing has also drawn up a “social credit” points system which determines an individual’s standing in society based on their actions: the more good a person does in the eyes of the state, the more rewards they might receive like better credit scores; the more bad an individual does according to the state, the more freedoms they might have stripped of them, like not being able to take internal flights.
Many argue Xi’s intense campaign of surveillance is nothing short of Orwellian.
But, as Sean King, senior vice-president of Park Strategies in New York and an affiliated scholar at University of Notre Dame’s Liu Institute, told Express.co.uk, China is now moving to control the way the world views, writes and talks about it.
It appears that the Communist nation wishes not to exert physical influence outside its borders but instead digital distortion.
Mr King explained: “I don’t think China has any plans on world domination but I definitely think they want to control their immediate area.
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“In the old post-Soviet days we would have called this ‘near abroad’ – the South China Sea, Tibet, Taiwan, that area and whether you consider it a part of China or not, and the general vicinity.
“I think China has issues in controlling those places and they also want to shape and control how the world talks about them: so how people in other countries speak about Taiwan, Tibet, and Hong Kong.
“You see this through economic coercion, threats, withholding of exports, contracts, tourists, and you see this through various state media posts around the world and the way embassies and consulates influence local discussion about China.
“Ultimately, China isn’t hell bent on world domination but it definitely wants to control its immediate vicinity and shape and control how people talk about them in all corners of the world.”
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A perfect example of this might be found in new security laws that China enforced in Hong Kong in June.
Several things are now illegal and enforceable by Beijing on the previously autnomous island, including secession (breaking away from the country), subversion (undermining the power or authority of the central government), terrorism (using violence or intimidate against people), and collusion with foreign or external forces.
A handful of experts now fear that the curb on freedoms could extend beyond Hong Kong.
They say that anyone who breaks any part of the security law, anywhere in the world, and either returns to Hong Kong, visits, or perhaps changes flights on the island could be indicted and tried on the mainland.
These fears were realised in June, just 12 days after the security laws were imposed, as Zoom, a US-based video conferencing company, admitted to suspending the accounts of human rights activists at the behest of the Chinese government and suggested it would block any further meetings that Beijing complained are illegal.
It led to the company, located in the “free world” where freedom of speech rules, being accused of censorship on behalf of the Chinese government.
In a statement, Zoom said: “The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.
“We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government.
“We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”
Unlike many social media platforms, Zoom is not blocked in China.
Earlier this year, the company again apologised over revelations that data of users around the world, specifically in the West, might have been captured by China as some of the platform’s servers are located there.
Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan immediately apologised and promised that going forward, any data would never be routed through China.
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