A proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to build an international health code system to screen COVID-19 carriers would enable China to harness valuable data and threaten privacy around the world, an observer said.
During a speech at the virtual G20 Summit on Saturday, Xi suggested world leaders use QR codes to record their people’s nucleic acid test results in order to enable resumption of economic activity.
Many cities in mainland China have introduced a color-coded system to monitor the movements of people. Those with negative test results are given the color green in a QR code on their smartphones. They can use the green status to travel. People who test positive will have red in their codes and are banned from travel and entry to many public facilities.
Xi said the world needed to establish “fast tracks” to facilitate an orderly flow of people worldwide. “We hope more countries will join this mechanism,” he said.
The world must stay alert to Xi’s proposal because while the QR codes may appear to offer an effective solution to border controls, they could enable China to become the Big Brother of the world, said Leung Man-to, a professor of political science at Taiwan’s Cheng Kung University.
“The technology appears harmless or even beneficial. But in fact it’s not,” Leung said.
Beijing has been using QR codes and other technological tools to monitor different aspects of life within China. If its health codes are accepted and introduced internationally, China will gain control of personal data worldwide, giving it immense power, Leung said.
The G20 summit is the latest international forum at which the Chinese leader has appeared this month. Earlier, he spoke at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, the BRICS meeting, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. In addition to his G20 message that China was willing to share its experience in combating the coronavirus, Xi has been stressing that the country embraced multilateralism and that it had a vital role in maintaining world peace.
Xi’s increased international presence showed that the Chinese Communist Party was seeking to exploit a power vacuum due to political uncertainy and division in the United States in the runup to and aftermath of presidential elections, Leung said.
Beijing is also expected to use COVID-19 vaccines as a tool to find new allies. “The aim is to nurture regimes friendly or loyal to Beijing worldwide,” Leung added.
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