HK says a big NO to Social Credit Rating

Hong Kong’s hapless Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, cannot even pacify demonstrators by telling them the extradition bill is “dead”. While she continues to seek talks with student leaders to end the current standoff, in the hopes of keeping a lid on unrest that still has the potential to flare again into large-scale protests, it has become clear that her government is all but paralyzed. 

Little surprise, then, that her mainland affairs secretary was quick to deny reports that the mainland’s Social Credit Rating system is to be introduced into Hong Kong. It would be hard to imagine a bigger match being lit to the flame of tensions gripping the city than this one. 

According to Stephen Lam, and confirmed by a HK Govt press release, reports of the Social Credit Rating (SCR) system being introduced in Hong Kong are “totally unfounded”. They apparently emanated from scurrilous rumor-mongers in Taiwanese media and “some online platforms”. However, adding fuel to the fire, one of these online platforms, the increasingly popular local news site, thestandnews.com, did some further digging. Its reporters found that a website on the mainland used to register the mainland’s myriad SCRs – there are more than 40 – had space reserved for the addition of Hong Kong and Macau. Someone at SCR HQ has obviously been thinking ahead.

So far, it would seem that all they have been doing is thinking about it. This is a relief, in the short term.

In the longer term, however, there is likely an economic cost to be borne for this stubborn, admirable, understandable defense of constitutionally protected freedoms. It seems unavoidable that the digital chasm between Hong Kong and the rest of the GBA cities is going to widen. 

In the current political environment, it is hard to imagine how Hong Kong could craft an SCR system that could somehow be plugged into the mainland’s. What this means is that it is going to become increasingly harder to integrate parts of the city’s digital infrastructure with any entity based on the mainland. How, for instance, will GBA planners be able to lure Hong Kong residents into living and working within a one-hour traffic circle in the GBA? 

To be sure, it is still early days for the SCR on the mainland. But all signs are pointing in the direction that without an SCR profile, it will become increasingly difficult to do, well, anything on the mainland. Open a bank account? Buy a car? Travel by plane, train or automobile? Soon, an ID card won’t be enough. Without an SCR, as a New Yorker would say, fuhgeddaboudit!

By next year, according to Wikipedia’s fascinating entryon the subject, the mainland will integrate its systems and start rolling out national standards. At that point, if Hong Kong is not on board – which it won’t be – it will be interesting to see what this means for the city’s residents doing business, living or traveling on the mainland.

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