Remember three days ago when we talked about Xi Jinping highlighting “digital government” in his speech to the 25th meeting of the Central Commission on Comprehensively Deepening Reform? I speculated that it sure seemed like Beijing was frustrated with the pace that government, particularly at the local level, was digitally transforming (this being one of Digital China’s five “ways”). The issue was magnified by the failure of “digital government,” particularly under COVID restrictions and especially illuminated by Shanghai, to deliver the promised digital results.
So, what happened next in China? Xi makes a point about “digital government” and suddenly government offices across the country get busy digitally transforming? Well that too, but it’s not the first thing.
The first thing that happened was that some stocks soared – the next day – on the Shanghai Stock Exchange A Share Index. What kind of stocks? You guessed it: stocks touching “Smart Government Affairs” and the “Digital China Concept.” If you ever wondered how party cadre could make a little extra cash off their status and insights, this might just be a part of it.
If you bought some, say, Hunan Creator Info Tech or Fujian Rongji Software, you made some dough (but they’re both down today, so I hope you already sold). If you bought some, say, Beijing Join-Cheer Software or Shenzhen Infinova Limited, they both hit their daily sales limit, so you’re driving your new Tesla right now. OK, maybe not, they’re both down today too. But you get the point: there’s some parts of the socialist market economy that seem a lot like the capitalist market economy.
And with the very public push on Digital China, including how specific technologies will be used in specific ecosystems in specific parts of the economy supervised by specific parts of government, you know someone has got to making some money. And I’ll bet a few people reading this blog (including the author) will be switching screens more regularly to the A Listings to track this phenomenon, academic interest you see, not profit seeking.
OK, back to the things that happened after Xi made his public point about “digital government.” Another thing is that Huawei revamped one of its major consumer product lines – the next day – with a new emphasis on corporate and government affairs.
You can read about it here and here, but what you won’t see is the picture-laden “news reports” (paid ads really) splashed across PRC media, highlighting the full range of digitally transformative (Smart Office) services Huawei can offer to government customers, including the names of PRC government offices that have already used Huawei and did not get an “F” on their report cards. Now I know the timing just might be coincidence, but still…
Here’s something else that happened (you guessed it) – the next day – local governments took a bit of a beating. For instance, take this article – the next day – in Guangming Online, one of the Party’s theoretical/ideological media outlets, it highlights that “digital government” may be a “hot topic” right now, but in reality “chaos and disorderly expansion” has unfortunately reigned at times.
Written by a professor at Renmin University School of Public Administration in Beijing, he highlights that the “main obstacles” currently facing “digital government” are that the “system is not perfect” because the all the necessary laws, regulations, and rules are simply not yet in place. But there are also “situations” where government departments “are afraid to take action.” Take for instance, “civil servants who have to manually process documents, or rely on WeChat and other social media to transmit documents and conduct business.” And this is because some civil servants are forced to work with equipment that is “unusable and insufficient.” Wait! I think Huawei can help with this!
So finally, what about the central government? Well, it clearly has work to do on national-level lawmaking and rulemaking regarding the “circulation, mutual recognition, and sharing of government affairs data between different regions, levels, departments, businesses and systems.” But it also has had some early success, like showing that the construction of “digital government” is crucial, particularly in areas like the “national-level mutual recognition of health codes, itinerary codes, and nucleic acid test reports” during the COVID pandemic. We talked a bit in the previous post (on Xi’s speech to the Central Commission on Comprehensively Deepening Reform) that the general line has been that the central government got the national health informatization part all right, but local governments dropped the COVID ball (another important topic to write more on).
But here’s what the center really got right. Guangming Daily, the more authoritative, printed version of the theoretical/ideological online media outlet described above, published an article – the next day – on the glories of the Leadership Message Board (领导留言板), which resides on the People’s Daily Online Mobile App, and is “digital government” at its best, that is: “People should run less errands and run more data.” The article goes on to say that the Board has so far responded to three million messages from the masses … and this provides a real window into “China’s democracy.”
[Long Pause] But wait a minute … under COVID restrictions, couldn’t that be three million complaints?