On Friday (11/12), Institute of International Studies Universitas Gadjah Mada (IIS UGM) organized another discussion forum, the 12th and the last Beyond the Great Wall (BTGW) of 2020. This forum discussed “China 2020: Flashbacks and Future Challenges”. Speaking were Arum Dyah Rinjani (fresh graduate of Department of International Relations Universitas Mataram), Lazarus Andja Karunia (part-time staff for Direktorat Riset Industri UGM), and Dr. Nur Rachmat Yuliantoro (lecturer at Department of International Relations UGM).
Arum Dyah Rinjani commenced the forum with her presentation on “Maritime Environmental Security: Implications of Nine-dash Line Claims on Maritime Environmental Degradation in South China Sea”. China’s nine-dash line claims steered several Chinese policies on the territory, causing a handful of maritime conflicts. From 2009-2016, 8.795 news on maritime conflicts were released, in contrast with mere 25 on maritime environmental security and resource protection in the area.
While most of China’s activities in SCS relate to maritime security, at least two of them contributed to severe environmental degradation: land reclamation and overfishing. China has been doing land reclamation since 2013, making up 3.200 ha of artificial island. The activity destroyed reefs, increased muddiness, released harmful chemicals, created sedimentary sands which killed underwater organisms, and inflicted several destructions beyond repair. Meanwhile, China used large ships, dangerous substances, and heavy equipment in fishing. China’s overfishing caused decrease in fish stocks and catches, endangered biodiversity, harmed reefs, and sparked clashes with other countries. Ecologically, the phenomenon made one of the worst overfishing and reef degradation records in history. It is 99% China’s fault, Arum claimed.
Lazarus Andja continued with discussions on “Great Peek Forward: How Surveillance Technology Shaped China’s Response Towards Coronavirus”. By surveillance, Andja meant structured observation. China has frequently utilized surveillance technology, even prior to the pandemic. There were at least 2.58 million cameras in Chongqing used to observe 15.35 million people, particularly for law enforcement and automatic response for violations through the social credit system. The same was also done in Xinjiang to supervise people and limit mobility. However, surveillance was still localized and yet to reach national scale.
To better understand the case, Andja used the post-panoptic surveillance concept. It means the use of several separate surveillance tools which, at the end, will consolidate into one strategy. Post-panoptic surveillance is not limited to physical institutions like schools, prisons, and factories, hence the lack of awareness of the object while being observed. Moreover, it is used not to control, but to discipline. Three aspects make up post-panoptic surveillance: surveillant assemblage, deterritorialization, and reassembly.
Surveillant assemblage means the tools used to execute surveillance. In China, it includes color coding, drones, social credit system, and social media supervision. Alipay Health Code uses color coding to indicate different health levels in Hangzhou to limit mobility. People in Hangzhou can only go to green-coded areas in the app. Travelling to yellow areas will end up with requirement of one-week quarantine, while visit to red areas require two-week quarantine. Moreover, drones function to assist observation and give out reminders to obey health protocols. Failure to obey will result in deduction of social credit points, while good deeds—i.e. serving as front-liner health workers—will be rewarded with extra points. The more points one has, the more social opportunities will be available. In addition, the government uses social media surveillance to sensor critics and rebellious acts through keyword filtering.
Deterritorialization is data gathering from physical space and creation of individual data doubles. In deterritorializing, the government partnered with at least four parties: (1) with Alibaba who assisted data gathering regarding individual health risk; (2) with Baidu’s AI technology Intelligent Changsan which processes citizen reports by phone; (3) with SkyNet who assisted the police through CCTV observation; (4) and with MicroMultiCopter which supplied 100 drones to 11 cities.
Lastly, reassembly is the process of gathering data doubles in accordance with the need of users. In China, amongst the various users are the war room (which is the center of city and village level supervision), the central government, and the police. That said, the people’s biggest fear is surveillance creep or data abuse by the authorities.
Dr. Nur Rachmat Yuliantoro delivered the last presentation on “Technology and Daily Lives of the Chinese: Is It Convenience, Fear, or Something Else?”. He showed different pictures (some of them taken directly by him) to show changes in daily conduct supported by the advancement of technology in China. The first picture exhibits a street merchant in China providing a barcode as means of payment, indicating China’s progress towards a cashless society. The second picture showcased wireless charging facilities in lamp posts across Wuhan.
The next picture captured Meituan Dianping app—similar to Gojek, providing several services in one platform—and Ele.Me—which delivers food with drones—that facilitates convenience for Chinese people. However, as much as it is efficient, the existence of these digital convenience sparked protests from partner restaurants because of its high fee. There’s also growing concerns of data abuse.
Moreover, technology allows everyone to easily access many services and do many things through mobile phones, including livestreaming features. Nonetheless, again, such convenience brings new concerns: recently, there was a man in China who got imprisoned after exposing personal data of a woman recently infected by COVID-19 following club visits. Nowadays, China also adopts face recognition technology that is advanced enough to identify masked faces.
While all the hi-tech tools mentioned above accommodate comfort and efficiency, they also pose obstacles to certain groups of the society, in particular the elderly.
Writer : Denise Michelle
Editor : Medisita Febrina