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Engineering global consent: The Chinese Communist Party's data-driven power expansion

By Samantha Hoffman

The Chinese party-state engages in data collection on a massive scale as a means of generating information to enhance state security—and, crucially, the political security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—across multiple domains. The party-state intends to shape, manage and control its global operating environment so that public sentiment is favourable to its own interests. The party’s interests are prioritised over simply the Chinese state’s interests or simply the Chinese people’s interests. The effort requires continuous expansion of the party’s power overseas because, according to its own articulation of its threat perceptions, external risks to its power are just as likely—if not more likely—to emerge from outside the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) borders as from within.

This report explains how the party-state’s tech-enhanced authoritarianism is expanding globally. The effort doesn’t always involve distinctly coercive and overtly invasive technology, such as surveillance cameras. In fact, it often relies on technologies that provide useful services. Those services are designed to bring efficiency to everyday governance and convenience to everyday life. The problem is that it’s not only the customer deploying these technologies—notably those associated with ‘smart cities’, such as ‘internet of things’ (IoT) devices—that derives benefit from their use. Whoever has the opportunity to access the data a product generates and collects can derive value from the data. How the data is processed, and then used, depends on the intent of the actor processing it.