Updated March 14, 2023: The word “Guideline” was converted to the word “Plan” in this blog. See translation note.
I’ve already shared what I see as the issues with this week’s “Plan for the Global Layout of Digital China Construction,” published by the Central Committee and State Council. If one only reads the accounts published in PRC English-language media (they are easy to find), you will get the sense that Digital China is a jazzy new Silicon Valley-like technology program designed to lift China’s digital economy and support modernization as it also provides a new opening for international cooperation. It’s all brand new.
In fact, I really do not see anything wrong with China trying to do any of those things. (Hmmm, that’s a pretty good foreign narrative.) Here’s my problem: it’s an artful but inaccurate description of Digital China.
Digital China has been under wraps for nearly a decade. It’s not new. And the new PRC English-language media description provides only a porthole view of the immense scope of Digital China. The full view is harder to like.
And for some reason, the party has decided to introduce Digital China to the world now. I don’t know why, but I speculate why here.
I also see that the PRC English-language media description of Digital China is on the move.
Imagine my dismay when the venerable South China Morning Post publishes two articles this week (so far) that repeats the narrative from PRC English-language state-run media. You can find the articles here and here.
Full disclosure: I am a fan of the South China Morning Post. Despite the ownership change and editorial shift, it continues to publish some fine journalism and has superb journalists on staff. I read it every day.
So, I did what any fan would do. I tried to correct the most obvious factual error in both articles: Digital China is not a “new grand digitalisation plan.”
I offered respectful on-line comments to both articles that simply said: “Digital China is not a new plan. General Secretary Xi Jinping elevated Digital China to a national strategy nearly six years ago.” And I offered a reference citation.
I was dispatched to the “moderation queue” that could take “as long as 24 hours.” That’s OK. Standard procedure (hasn’t happen to me before though).
I’ve been in the “moderation queue” for one of the articles for two days now, and the other article for over a day. I’m not hopeful.
If the moderator did not believe me or like my citation, the most elementary searches against PRC Chinese-language media would have confirmed my comment.
I don’t have an explanation for this but my working hypothesis at this point is that the venerable newspaper that I love is reprinting the party line, intentionally. There is overwhelming evidence, easy to check, provided by the party itself, that Digital China is not new. Pure fact.
Luckily, I have not seen non-PRC news organizations in any numbers picking up the South China Morning post articles, or picking up the related reporting in Xinhua, Global Times, China Daily, and CGTN. One outside news organization has reprinted one of the South China Morning Post articles, and I see the articles floating lightly around Twitter. That’s all.
Let’s hope it stays that way.
Oh, and by the way, Digital China is not referred to as “new” anywhere in the official Chinese-language version of the Central Committee/State Council notice. It’s only in the English-language reporting. If it was “new” in the official notice, cadre who do know the immense scope of Xi’s decade-old Digital China vision (that would be all of them, by the way) might be a bit confused.