The attached graphic shows the historical timeline on China’s informatization efforts in the government sphere leading up to the official launch of Digital Government in 2019. The timeline highlights China’s progression from office automation (1980s), the initiation of the government online project (2000s), the initiation of e-government pilot demo projects (2002), formal activation of the central government web portal (2006), appearance of government microblogging and mobile applications (2009), the promotion of Internet Plus government services (2015), the 19th Party Congress political report launching construction of Digital China (2017), and 19th Central Committee Fourth Plenum launching the construction of Digital Government (2019).
The initiation of “e-government pilots” in 2002 points, at least in part, to Xi Jinping during his time in Fujian Province as governor and deputy party secretary of that province But as party history has developed, the “partially” is transitioning to “entirely,” and “Digital Fujian” has become the “ideological source and practical starting point” of Digital China itself.
Xi’s Digital Government serves two primary goals. The first is to increase the “people’s happiness,” often expressed using an aphorism attributed to Xi himself, “The people should run less errands and run more data” (百姓少跑腿,数据多跑路), now officially designated the “E-Government Services Concept” (电子政务服务理念). The second is accountability. The pressure on local officials is intense, driven in part by regular online polling to determine whether government services are improving through digitalized transformation, in effect grading their performance on implementing Xi’s Digital China. The first test of Digital Government was the coronavirus, a dismal failure that the center effectively presented as a failure of local implementation, not party concept.
More significant in party theoretical writing is the underlying driver for Digital Government: Xi’s view on the opportunity that data intelligence offers to maintain party leadership, transform society, and modernize socialism. In practical terms, during national informatization, the party maintains its leadership position over socialist modernization by “promoting” two additional terms-of-art that are either attributed to or closely associated with Xi himself: “digitalized development” (digitalized transformation of the Five Sphere Integrated Plan) and “digitalized reform” (Adding “digital wings” to the full scope of governance systems and capabilities in all domains). Digital China itself is sometimes defined as the system-level implementation of informatized/digitalized reform and development.
As always, for the full story, see David Dorman and John Hemmings, “Digital China: The Strategy and Its Geopolitical Implications,” Issues and Insights, February 21, 2023.