The National Cyberspace System upholds… accelerating the construction of a Cyber Great Power, Digital China, and a Smart Society; [and] advancing the the modernization of the National Governance System and governance capabilities through informatization…

全国网信系统坚持。。。加快建设网络强国、数字中国、智慧社会,以信息化推进国家治理体系和治理能力现代化 。。。

Zhuang Rongwen, “Follow the Trend of the Information Revolution Era and Strive to Promote the Construction of a Cyber Great Power,” Study Times, Page One, April 20, 2022

I had a few questions from readers about whether Digital China, so personally tied to Xi Jinping, could continue past the 20th Party Congress if expectations are wrong and he is not tagged for another round.

Well, of course I do not have answer to how the 20th Party Congress will turn out, but I do believe regardless of the outcome, Digital China and all its corollaries are so ingrained in the Party system now that little change would result, apart from some narrative adjustments perhaps.

In this regard, I do want to highlight (ICYMI) an absolutely fawning tribute to Xi Jinping’s “Important Thought on Cyber Great Power (网络强国的重要思想)” which appeared on the front page of Study Times on Wednesday and has been widely reprinted. Titled “Follow the Trend of the Information Revolution Era and Promote the Construction of a Cyber Great Power (顺应信息革命时代潮流 奋力推进网络强国建设), it was penned by Zhuang Rongwen, a Xi ally, and currently head of the Cyberspace Administration of China (both sides, Party and state, which is emphasized in his byline). He is also a deputy minister in the Central Propaganda Department and this article certainly shows some of that flare.

The most important part of the article is his pitch:

… We will unite more closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the Core and take Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and especially General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Thought on Cyber Great Power, as a guide … and welcome the victorious opening of the Party’s 20th National Congress with excellent achievement.

… 我们将更加紧密团结在以习近平同志为核心的党中央周围,以习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想特别是习近平总书记关于网络强国的重要思想为指导, … 以优异成绩迎接党的二十大胜利召开。

I think Xi and Digital China will be OK.

Cyber Great Power is a “cornerstone” strategy of Digital China and focuses on the technical (and critical) cybersecurity and informatization aspects of building a great power. It is also a necessary pre-condition (cornerstone) for Digital China. Cyber Great Power can be achieved without Digital China. Digital China cannot be achieved without Cyber Great Power. There are other Digital China cornerstones as well (one part of a series of upcoming papers at Pacific Forum co-authored with my former colleague at APCSS John Hemmings).

Digital China is a higher-order national strategy, a Party initiative, that touches on the digital transformation of National Rejuvenation, in all its socio-economic aspects. Why am I rambling on with all of this?  It’s really the reason I’m writing this blog. I need your help.

Zhuang raises two points in his commentary, in a very prominent place Study Times, that have been churning in Party commentary for some time, but with little underlying explanation. It suggests to me perhaps an evolution in theory, and perhaps changes we might see out of the upcoming Party Congress. It’s just a hunch, that’s all. But if true, based on precedent it would hard to spot early, so I’m asking all interested eyes to help.

Zhuang raises Cyber Great Power eleven times in his commentary, and Digital China only three.  Not unusual based on who Zhuang is, where he works, and the topic of his commentary. And Digital China itself is appropriately highlighted in his discussion on informatization driving economic and societal transformation. But both Cyber Great Power and Digital China are big deals, particularly for Xi. That said, Zhuang raises two issues in his commentary that touch on theory and have been churning: (1) one on great power transition, and another (2) on a potential Digital China end state, and perhaps third big deal: Smart Society.

(1) Great Power Transition, that is, how the national transition from a “major power” to a “great power” is measured. This has been talked about a bit in Party commentary, and Zhuang raises it in his essay: “Our country is striding forward from a cyber (major) power to a cyber great power (我国正从网络大国向网络强国阔步迈进). This measurement has ramifications for all forms of great power theory, and it is a measurement of success/status in strategy execution, so it is important for those who track such things (both inside and outside China).

(2) Smart Society, as part of the Party sequencing of the new triad, “Cyber Great Power, Digital China, and Smart Society (网络强国、数字中国、智慧社会 )” which is now appearing regularly in commentary. It appears to be a conditional sequencing. Cyber Great Power is a cornerstone to Digital China (we got that) but is Digital China a cornerstone to a Smart Society?  Is this the Digital China end state? “Smart Society” exists in the Party narrative right now in two forms: (1) a derivative of “digital society,” one of Digital China’s five “ways,” and this, (2) what appears to be a higher order form.

Anyways, keep an eye out, and if you know anything more or see anything new, please share!