China has announced new measures that mean citizens with bad “social credit” will be restricted from travelling.
Acts that can earn you a place on the blacklist – barring you from trains and planes – include smoking on public transport and using expired tickets, as well as more sweeping and vaguely defined violations such as “spreading false information about terrorism”.
According to Reuters, the new rules will come into effect on May 1, and it’s all part of President Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”.
Two statements issued by the Chinese government on Friday confirmed that rule breakers can expect to face travel bans of up to a year.
Other offences that can damage a citizen’s “social credit” include failure to pay fines and costs like social security insurance.
It would appear that China has already been implementing a version of this regime for some time. In early 2017, its Supreme People’s Court stated that more than six million Chinese nationals had been banned from flying as a result of social misdeeds.
So is this social engineering gone mad, or a perfectly sensible idea?
Looking at the UK, for example, and according to the Civil Aviation Authority, disruptive passenger behaviour is one of the main reasons for aircraft diversions – with cases involving British tourists soaring in recent years. There are many among us who probably wouldn’t mind a crackdown on (as China’s president dubs them) “untrustworthy” passengers.
Under XI Jinping’s rule, the concept of social credit is part of a wider overhaul planned to be in rolled out by 2020. Everything from how well you treat your parents to what you’re buying will affect your eligibility to receive various rewards and benefits.
The social credit system will, according to government officials “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step” .
It’s a situation played out by way of Charlie Brooker’s dark satire in an episode of Black Mirror, Nosedive. In it, the central character, Lacie, lives in a world where her social rating dicates every aspect of her life, access to travel included.
As for being a tourist in China? Gambling is illegal, for example, random police checks aren’t uncommon, drug offences are punishable by death, and you won’t have access to websites include Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter while there.
Law-abiding travellers, however, have countless reasons to explore this vast and ever-evolving nation.