A neologism has been born on China’s internet. A shortened version of the phrase “intelligent governance,” or zhineng guanzhi (智能管治), the buzzword is zhizhi (智治), which we might call in English simply “AI governance” – and it encompasses many of the new approaches we have seen in China to social and political control using surveillance technology and big data. The innovator and originator of this neologism is none other than Chen Yixin (陈一新), director of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, which oversees law enforcement authorities nationwide.
Chen Yixin has been a prolific originator of Party slogans, not least the “New Era” language introduced by Xi Jinping. In 2018, he created the “Six Grabs,” a new set of buzzwords for the idea that authorities must be much more aggressive in six key areas to set the agenda on policing and other law enforcement matters. And on May 21 this year, Chen introduced the “Five Governances,” or wuzhi (五治), which included “politics” (政治), “rule by law” (法治), “moral governance” (德治), “self-governance” (自治) and “AI governance” (智治). “[We must] lead with strong politics, exercise protections through rule by law, govern morals, [encourage] self-governance and [employ] AI governance.”
The first four of these five governances were largely familiar hot-air concepts. “Rule by law” referred not to legal protections but the instrumentalizing of the law for Party control. “Self-governance” was not about autonomy but about enforcing political discipline, about everyone behaving and falling in line. But the fifth concept, “AI governance,” was a novel and important formulation encompassing the new powers of control being applied by the Party.
At a recent training session for local-level politics and law officials, Chen Yixin said:
We must place the process of AI governance development in an even more important position, elevating it as an important means of control – [we must] promote “AI governance” in city-level social control systems, operational mechanisms, and in the restructuring of intelligent work processes, accelerating the modernization of social governance [control] at the city level.
Chen Yixin expressed the conviction that by relying on current technology, the Party can effectively and efficiently identify risks and warning signs at the local level, applying timely responses for risk management. The work, he said, would focus on “priority districts and places” (重点区域部位), and on “critical industry sectors” (重点行业领域) – essentially a reference to the “gridded community management system” we wrote about at CMP back in December. This process would rely, said Chen, on such key infrastructure as the Sharp Eyes Project (雪亮工程), literally “Dazzling Snow,” which envisions comprehensive digital video surveillance linked to a national network.