The vast scale of China’s evolving social credit system has been detailed by the government, with officials revealing on Wednesday that 3.59 million people had been forced to repay debts after being “restricted everywhere”.
Academics at universities who have plagiarised others’ work have been blocked from promotions or receiving awards, and an actress was prevented from boarding a plane at Beijing airport because of an unpaid fine from a defamation case she lost in court, in just two examples to come to light.
Lian Weiliang, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is overseeing the project, said all Chinese individuals and organisations now have a unique social credit code.
He said that “untrustworthy behaviour” had fallen by 60 per cent after 19 government departments began sharing the information on their black lists and enforcing punishments.
In the past year, reports on the social credit of individuals had been accessed two billion times.
The debts owed by blacklisted people totalled 4.4 trillion yuan ($931 billion). Of this, 10 billion yuan in unpaid taxes had been recovered, and 16 billion yuan in unpaid wages for migrant workers had been paid by employers after they were blacklisted.
First conceived in 2014, China’s social credit system aims to harness data to reward good behaviour and punish rule breaking. Trials of the scheme have focused on punishing tax evasion, fraud, fine defaulters and unpaid court debts.
“Let the trustworthy travel smoothly and let the untrustworthy be restricted everywhere,” Lian told reporters on Wednesday, adding that implementation of the system would accelerate this year.
The Paper, a Shanghai newspaper, reported that actress Michelle Ye had been prevented from leaving China last month by border authorities after a Shanghai court put her on a blacklist in December for failing to pay a fine in a social media defamation case.
Ye was ordered back to Shanghai to submit an apology letter to the court and pay the 80,000 yuan fine, after being intercepted at Beijing airport.
Lian said academic misconduct was also covered by the system.
The National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese government’s economic planning agency, has previously revealed that by the end of 2018, 5.4 million people had been banned from buying high-speed rail tickets, and 17 million people had been stopped from buying air tickets, because they were put on a black list by a court, the tax office or another government department.
Another 12,920 people have had financial restrictions imposed.
Lian told reporters on Wednesday that the “intensity of joint disciplinary action against the dishonest” will increase this year.
In a sign the Chinese government believes the system is working, incidents of migrant workers – commonly labourers who have travelled from rural China to the city to work – not being paid had fallen 40 per cent because of the social credit system, he said.
This year, incentives for good behaviour, such as lending credits and tourism credits, will be given.
The task of building the social credit system was arduous, but this year it would be perfected to “make trustworthiness valuable and trustworthiness useful”, he said.
Personal information would be protected under the system, he added.
The social credit system is due to be implemented nationally next year, under a pledge made in 2014, but is being used in different ways in various cities during its trial period.
Human rights groups have pointed out that people incorrectly placed on a blacklist have found delays and difficulties in having travel restrictions removed.