After the 100th celebration of the China Communist Party’s founding, foreign entities are finding it much harder to extract information from mainland China.
The country has been notorious for its manipulation of information to the public. But as the ruling party further enforces its data-security law, the situation has become much more challenging.
Dr. Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at the Institute of Politics and International Studies in the International Christian University told the Wall Street Journal, “China has always been a big black box, now it’s getting even darker.”
The WSJ reported that the CCP obscured information about Chinese waters by cutting access to channels that provide ships’ locations. The same censorship happened to supplies and financial statements, coal use, and others. International academic exchanges were also pruned.
Mainland Chinese, meanwhile, were more severely secluded from the rest of the world following the COVID-19 pandemic. Flights were canceled, and people were engaged more in face-to-face contact, which impedes their access to information from the rest of the world.
According to data from the CCP Civil Aviation Administration, in the first eight months of 2021, airlines only transported about 1 million people in and out of China. While in the same period in 2019, the number of passengers was nearly 50 million.
China’s escalated censorship also seeks to hide information about human rights abuses. According to the Wall Street Journal, one activist who had been using an online court document database to trace how the party retaliates dissents online, discovered this summer that documents have been removed.
Opaque definition of sensitive topics
The CCP enacted its new data privacy law on September 1st. It stipulates that all data-related activities must be under government oversight. That includes the collection, storage, use, and transmission.
Lawyer Jonathan Crompton said the law has effectively deterred mainland companies from sharing information with foreign partners. Sectors that were cut short ranged from finance, health, public transport, to infrastructure.
Allegedly, since the CCP made its definition of sensitive topics so vague that they would rather just stay safe and not share anything.
One of China’s top sources of financial and investment data, Zero2ipo Holdings Inc., has also stopped selling its data to international customers. The company at present only provides internal services to Chinese users.
Tightened censorship challenges international businesses
One CEO of a major U.S. technology company said the reluctance to share data was so severe that companies would refuse to inform even minor details such as the amount of metal in a factory’s inventory or the percentage of supplies that will be recycled, to foreign clients. This has made it difficult for foreign companies to plan production while ensuring environmental standards.
US lawyer Steve Dickinson said for international companies wishing to do business in China, the lack of data increased the risks for fraud and scams.
He recalled a recent event when a Chinese company simply refused to provide its US client financial statements for credibility by citing the CCP’s data privacy law. The client had no choice but to proceed without transparent information.
Dickinson, who is working for the Harris Bricken Law Firm based in the US, said his company has hired local Chinese to assist with due diligence and intellectual property work in China. Such tasks have been challenged from outside the country.
Cutting international academic exchange
The CCP also reduces the risks of exchanging information by curtailing international academia.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese universities have increasingly been limiting academic contacts and exchanges with the outside world, and they continually block Western scholars’ access to Chinese research databases.
According to the latest report by the Chinese Ministry of Education, between August 2018 and 2019, the Ministry of Education terminated 286 cooperation projects with foreign universities. The reason was that some projects did not meet teaching standards and guidelines of the Ministry of Education.
Recently, Chinese universities have further complicated approval processes for scholars in international relations and Chinese historical studies. When they want to travel abroad or participate in academic seminars with foreign colleagues, they must first obtain approval from the authorities. Those restrictions also covered Zoom calls.
More harassment against international journalists
According to a survey shared by the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club in China, in 2020, nearly 40% of foreign journalists in China were summoned to interrogations by law enforcement. The reporters were also subjected to temporary detention after meeting the officials, with their collected information confiscated.
China has also been expelling journalists over the past two years. Over concerns of the crackdown on independent journalism, the Trump administration also imposed visa restrictions on Chinese reporters.