Big Data Strengthens China’s Grip

There was a time when the internet seemed to pose a mortal threat to the Communist Party’s iron grip over China. Free-flowing information was going to trigger an irreversible and inevitable weakening of the party’s dominance. Instead, the same advances in technology that have spawned multibillion-dollar startups also have been embraced by the state as powerful tools for governance and control.

President Xi Jinping, who this week is presiding over the 19th congress of the Communist Party, a meeting every five years to pick rulers and set policy, has put technology at the center of the government’s agenda. The regime has made global dominance in technology a matter of national security. He has presided over the government’s embrace of digital tools—not only for surveillance but also for implementation of governance.

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“It is a painful awakening,” wrote Mr. Creemers in a recent paper, “to find that the libertarian ethos underpinning much of the evolution of technology has fostered systems that enable more total control over individual lives than at any time in the past.”

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With its vast stores of digital data, coupled with the world’s largest internet community, China is better positioned than any other country to tap the power of artificial intelligence.