China’s 1% Spying on the Rest of the 99% Population: A Comparison to East Germany’s Stasi Era
China Utilizes Cutting-Edge Technology to Establish Intense Surveillance Society
Police and Local Authorities Recruit 14 Million Informants
The Chinese Communist Party is alleged to be using 1% of the population as informants to surveil the remaining 99%. This ratio of surveillance personnel is reportedly on par with the infamous East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of “The State of Surveillance – Supervision and Survival of Chinese Dictatorship,” estimates that the introduction of advanced technology in China over the past decade in terms of the dense network of informants has provided the Communist Party with unprecedented power and ability to monitor its citizens in a Bloomberg column on the 4th (local time).
In reality, China’s criminal tracking system, Sky Net, uses over 20 million closed-circuit (CC) TVs, facial recognition technology, and Global Positioning System (GPS) to track criminals. The Chinese government also implements a social credit system that assigns credit scores to individuals aiming to control individually.
According to a May 2022 report by The New York Times (NYT), the Chinese government is extensively collecting biometric information on citizens through 500 million CCTVs installed nationwide. The government can even monitor individuals’ private activities and social relationships by installing CCTVs in non-public places like karaoke rooms, apartment entrances, and hotel lobbies, leading to an intense surveillance society.
In the West, there are concerns that China is exporting surveillance technology and equipment to developing countries worldwide, resulting in the spread of a Chinese Big Brother system. The United States has partially imposed restrictions to delay developing and exporting related technologies.
While Professor Pei emphasizes the need for caution regarding such forecasts, he argues that apocalyptic warnings about a world dominated by Chinese Big Brother are overly exaggerated: The power of China’s surveillance originated from advanced technology and the Communist Party’s unparalleled organizational and sophisticated skills that other countries cannot easily replicate. According to his analysis, the number of informants recruited by Chinese police and local authorities is estimated to be approximately 14 million, about 1% of the total population. Professor Pei highlights that the Communist Party has tremendous authority to pressure individuals to act as informants in communities, universities, and state-owned enterprises.
Some individuals keep an eye on specific targets, such as people who oppose the government, those who make petitions, members of certain religious groups, or people who belong to minority communities. Others watch important locations like hotels, shopping centers, and train stations. Most of these individuals provide general information on how the public is reacting to government policies and current events within the world.
China minimizes surveillance gaps by using technology to monitor cell phones and track suspects’ movements while positioning informants near targets to report on their activities and mental states.
Another major surveillance tool for the Communist Party is the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a group of professional bureaucrats. The commission responsible for security, which did not exist in the former Soviet Union, sets domestic security agendas and issues guidelines to state agencies at its annual meetings. In addition, it also oversees the secret police and new initiatives such as the expansion and upgrade of the advanced surveillance system known as Sharp Eyes.