On 17 November 2022, the Finnish China Law Center held an online seminar on the topic of ‘The Social Credit System in China ‘. The event is part of the Center’s mini seminar series on topical issues of Chinese law.
The event began with a presentation on “Debating the Legality of Social Credit in China – A Review of Chinese Legal Scholarship” by Björn Ahl, Professor and Chair of Chinese Legal Culture at the University of Cologne and President of the European China Law Studies Association. Björn explained that Chinese legal scholars conceptualize the social credit system (SCS) as an emerging ‘reputation state’ or as an unprecedented instance of ‘social engineering’. The SCS is consisted of three main pillars: the financial credit industry, credit tools to enforce laws and court decisions as well as mechanisms to strengthen the integrity of government affairs. Compared to the other areas of the SCS, the regulatory environment of financial credit is relatively mature and relevant data protection laws provide for a basic level of legal protection of data subjects including effective legal remedies. Government integrity in the third pillar is facilitated by the extension of the credit disciplinary measures to state organizations and personnel. While the first and third pillar are less controversial as there exist basic legal protections with regard to the former and the latter is neither well-developed nor directed at private entities, the recent legal debates and thus Björn focused on the second pillar that has developed ‘social credit tools’, in particular joint disciplining for trust-breaking mechanisms, in order to strengthen the enforcement of law and court decisions.
The second speaker, Marianne von Blomberg, Research Associate and PhD candidate at the Chair of Chinese Legal Culture, University of Cologne discussed “Reputational Regulation through the Social Credit System”. Marianne first clarified that the SCS is not a national social credit score for each citizen but is many local pilot projects, some of which use scores. The punishments are not based on scores but on violations of the law. She went on to examine the SCS and its disciplinary measures including formal joint agency disciplining, and reputational disciplining through local government websites, local social credit information platforms, national social credit, information platforms, State agency websites, regional newspapers, map apps in Wechat, regional TV and radio, broadcasting and warnings in dial tones. Marianne also explored the large-scale disclosure of government information, which lies at the core of SCS reputational punishment, has long been implemented in China as access to government data empowers public oversight over state administrations. This purpose was first manifested in the Open Government Information Regulations passed in 2007, which mandate administrative agencies to disclose information to increase the level of transparency in government work. Governmental information disclosure can, in a different fashion, also serve regulators. Regulators disclose, or mandate organizations to disclose themselves, information that indicates how well they comply with laws and regulations Such regulatory disclosure is based on the idea that the engine for change is reputation, and the fuel for that engine is information.
The seminar concluded with insightful comments on the topic by Huifen Yin, Associate Professor at the School of Law, Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.