Xinhua reported yesterday on a new “Digital China” plan issued by the Central Committee and State Council that was reprinted on page one of People’s Daily today: “Plan for the Global Layout of Digital China Construction” (数字中国建设整体布局规划; see my translation note and the DigiChina full translation of the plan).

The plan is important, and let me explain why.

The new plan has been described in PRC English-language media as an “unveiling” and as a “blueprint,” all suggesting that there is something new here.

Digital China is a blueprint. But it is Xi Jinping’s blueprint for digital transformation of socialist modernization, and it is certainly not new.

Digital China (not digital China) was elevated to a national strategy in 2017 at the 19th Party Congress and has a personal history with Xi Jinping dating back 23 years.

The plan’s content, with several exceptions which I highlight below, has long been part of Digital China’s overall structure. The 2035 timeline has been part of Central Party School instruction on Digital China for several years, and every element of the plan’s “2522 Global (整体) Framework,” are long established components of Digital China’s “ends, ways, and means,” including the international component.

So, what’s truly new?  Only three things:

The 2025 date is new.  But it is the end date for a centrally directed acceleration of Digital China’s infrastructure programs from earlier this year, reflected in both the NDRC 2023 Central Budget and bond issues for digital infrastructure at the local level in January. The new plan provides focus for this effort and highlights those portions of the Digital China strategy which are to receive emphasis during the current surge. This is standard practice for Digital China.

But what is surprisingly new is the external media focus.  This is the first time I have seen Digital China highlighted in PRC English-language media in this way, and as a program.  I can find examples of Digital China in English, but it is rare and mostly characterized by mistranslation or mischaracterization. The evolution of Digital China, first as Xi’s personal vision, and then as a national strategy, has been largely under wraps for a decade.

Although only correlation and not causation, I will also highlight that this first-ever external media campaign on Digital China follows increased research and writing on Digital China, laying out its history, goals, and structure.

Finally, and most important, the plan formally incorporates the party’s concept of “global digital development” (数字全球发展, literally “digital global development”) into the Digital China strategy for the first time. Although the international component of Digital China has been in discussion over the past three years, the domestic component has always dominated the strategy. This formal change to the Digital China strategy is most visible in the new plan’s equal pairing of the “international and domestic environments” in its “2522″ framework.

For now, what we are already seeing as a result of this change is a new propaganda effort to swing the (or build a new) Digital China narrative on the strategy’s international component: “We will expand the space for international cooperation in the digital field, [and] actively participate in digital cooperation platforms under multilateral frameworks … [and] build a new platform for open cooperation in the digital field with high quality.”

In short, the PRC media narrative on the new Digital China “blueprint,” although overlapping with the truth, is inconsistent with Digital China’s theoretical origins, party definition and intent, and current drivers for implementation, as laid out in authoritative PRC sources.

We must understand Xi’s Digital China to understand his vision for China’s future. That’s what the party tells cadre. It’s true for us too.