Is there a totalitarian country today?

The perfect dictatorship - China and the dream of a totalitarian state

China has been fundamentally turned upside down for a long time. With the help of big data and artificial intelligence, Beijing wants to build the perfect dictatorship, every step and every thought of citizens or tourists should be recorded, linked and evaluated. The goal is total control over everyone and everything. The former China correspondent Kai Strittmatter witnessed this redesign. In his book "The Reinvention of the Dictatorship" he takes stock.

Kai Strittmatter

Former China correspondent

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The journalist Kai Strittmatter lived in China for more than 20 years and reported from there for German media - including for the "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

SRF News: How does total surveillance show up in everyday life in China?

Kai Strittmatter: China has always been an authoritarian state, a dictatorship. The whole thing has now taken on a new quality under the rule of Xi Jinping, especially with regard to surveillance. Also because the party now has completely new means at its disposal, the means of the information age: artificial intelligence and big data. That means that they can suddenly fulfill the very old dream of all dictators and authoritarian rulers, namely the really complete surveillance of everyone.

You write about police officers with video glasses that can capture the identity of citizens in seconds, about real-time monitoring and the evaluation of all activities on the Internet. That sounds like science fiction ...

We have a lot of that in rudiments; how we move online, how we “outsource” our brains to our smartphones. In China, however, the state is going a few steps further. First, the State Security has complete access to the smartphones. Second, it uses artificial intelligence, whose main application is currently surveillance, nationwide. The People's Daily announced this spring that this network of surveillance cameras - they call it the sky web - is already able to identify every Chinese person in a second.

The government wants to know how they treat their parents, whether they go through the traffic light when they are red, whether they ride black on the subway and so on.

The social credit system to be introduced by 2020 is called the "social trustworthiness system". What's behind it?

There are several things behind it: The trust or the great distrust of everyone and of the system. As in all authoritarian systems, this is a big problem. The Chinese have discovered that this also creates problems for them in economic life. Because of the many scandals, people no longer trust the companies either. People in Beijing said to themselves: “It is better if we record, evaluate and evaluate every single one of your social actions and your moral actions in real time. And in the end we know whether someone is a trustworthy person. " The government wants to know how its citizens treat their parents, whether they turn red lights, whether they ride black on the subway, and so on.

So the goal is to create an honest, trustworthy person. But how do you get there? By not crossing the street when it is red?

Exactly. Their traffic behavior, their behavior towards their colleagues and their family members, but also their online behavior, how they comment, whether they make statements threatening stability, but also their purchasing behavior, how quickly they pay. That is how they are judged. Then there are sanctions. If you are a good, honest, trustworthy person, you can get loans or airline tickets cheaper, for example. Or there are negative sanctions, i.e. penalties.

What are the consequences for the Chinese?

The official goal of this system is to create trustworthy people, trust-breakers are subject to sanctions. The system is not officially supposed to be introduced until 2020, but black lists are already in place. These people are no longer allowed to buy tickets for high-speed trains or flights. They are also no longer allowed to drive first class. At home they only get slow internet.

This leads to them trying to be as compliant, obedient and honest as possible in order to be classified as well as possible in the system.

You write that we have to come to terms with the fact that this program will be very successful in China. That is a big problem. Which one

The challenge for us is twofold. On the one hand, we have our own large corporations here who look enviously at China and say: “Crazy! Look, with what passion, with what force the Chinese throw themselves into the new technologies! We have to do that too, otherwise we'll be left behind. ”We have to be very careful that it doesn't slip away from us. And the other is that this reinvention of dictatorship is taking place at a time when Western democracy is dismantling itself while we are being gripped by autocracies.

China wants an order according to its values, according to its norms. These are the values ​​and norms of the Communist Party, a Leninist dictatorship.

A lot of people talk about Russia in Europe. China is the much bigger challenge for us because China is financially stronger, and because Xi did something last year that has not been there for a long time: He officially announced that China wants to march back to the center of the world and have a say wants an order according to his values, according to his norms. These are the values ​​and norms of the Communist Party, a Leninist dictatorship. And we will still have to struggle a lot with that.

Interview conducted by Samuel Wyss.

srf / eglc; bisv

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