China has the most comprehensive blockchain strategy in the world. State owned enterprises, local governments, along with the participation of the large private corporations both domestic and foreign are driving the strategy forward. The strategy and its execution are comprehensive, as well as, well funded. When other governments are dipping their toes into Central Bank Digital Currency, the Chinese are in pilot trials on Digital Electronic Currency Payment (DCEP) system.
The groundwork is being laid on two fronts, the Blockchain Service Network as well as blockchain standards work through China’s National Blockchain and Distributed Accounting Technology Standardization Technical Committee. The Chinese are members of DCGI (Digital Currency Global Initiative) a joint project of Stanford University and ITU, a UN special agency. ITU is chaired by a Chinese citizen.
Xi Jinping, the highest official in the land, is an advocate of blockchain technology. Such high level support and funding has allowed the Chinese to execute on the strategy; all official and private enterprises are working together to make the strategy successful. In a country like China, hewing to the official line is a good approach. This statement also applies to most foreign companies that do significant business in China.
This is an article about a project that fits into the overall scheme, which is the publication of a municipal plan from Beijing, with a comprehensive road-map for the transformation of municipal services and governance. The paper is very comprehensive and is more than 140 pages in English. The paper and its message is summarized below.
Beijing municipal government and its services have organically evolved and resulted in data islands and segmentation creating inefficiencies in governance. To overcome this inefficiency, the solution is blockchain 3.0 based “programmable government”. The paper separates the blockchain era into blockchain 1.0 which coincides with the release of the bitcoin paper and the first version of bitcoin core, blockchain 2.0 which injected programmability into the blockchain through Ethereum and now blockchain 3.0. Blockchain 3.0 is the application of blockchain to various industries, not just finance and payment systems.
Blockchain 3.0 is the new infrastructure that drives the modernization governance capabilities through new infrastructure. The new infrastructure will allow cross-hierarchy, cross-departmental and cross-domain data sharing with new technical tools, collaborative platforms and infrastructure. Quality of data will improve with built-in auditing, non-tampering and traceability, allowing better analytics. Given the timeliness of data updates and sharing, important documents like licenses and registration of various enterprises are updated and available. The overall level of government services will be enhanced.
Given the roots of blockchain technology in provenance and authenticity of documents, it is no surprise that improving government services, which are based on document management will be helped by transitioning to blockchain.
The document goes into the detail of twelve projects that have been launched to implement Beijing municipality’s blockchain 3.0 vision.. The description of each project goes into details of the problem to be solved as well as the implementation along with the current status of the project. A couple of representative projects are cited below.
The first is the Beijing airport International Logistics Blockchain Platform. From the description, it seems to be a Hyperledger Fabric based platform. The paper does not explicitly mention the platform, but was launched back in March 2020. The project allows for rapid co-ordination between the various agencies because of the integration of the following documents into a easily queryable and tamper-proof system: the international port information, trade data, logistics data, customs clearance information, and tax information.
The second is the Municipal Services Bureau’s servicing of electronic licenses based on blockchain. Repeated submission of license information, the stealing of license data to create fraudulent licenses. Currently, multiple licenses including electronic business licenses, ID cards, driving licenses, marriage certificates and many others are being handled by the pilot project.
The appendix has data dictionaries and process flow of many projects. Of course, this comprehensive “programmable society” approach will raise eyebrows. The possibility of mass surveillance and misuse of private transaction information for controlling society will be uppermost in people’s minds.
This is not due to the technology itself, but the lack of regulation and laws that govern the use of data. In the West, in spite of multiple regulations, private enterprises gather up immense amounts of data and use it to influence us to buy stuff and indeed subvert democracy itself. In any country, a balance has to found between efficiency and misuse of data. Some of these are cultural norms, this paper does allude to multiple ways in which the privacy of information is secured.