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Research Questions

  1. What, specifically, do the Chinese seek to achieve with big data analytics?
  2. What does the Chinese leadership believe is within the realm of possibility for big data analytics?
  3. In which sectors of society do Chinese decisionmakers plan to apply big data analytics?

China's leaders' quest to achieve an artificial intelligence (AI) capability to perform a variety of civilian and military functions starts with mastering big data analytics — the use of computers to make sense of large data sets. The research conducted by the authors of this report indicates that China is aggressively working toward becoming a global leader in big data analytics as part of its plan to achieve great power status; indeed, President Xi Jinping has articulated that China should become the global center for AI by 2030.

Beijing's efforts are guided by a national big data strategy, an effort that encompasses economic, military, police, and intelligence functions. The authors find that Beijing is already using big data analytics to survey the country's domestic population and enhance its military capabilities. Improvements in big data analytics have supported Beijing's monitoring and control of its citizens — including ethnic minorities.

Key Findings

Xi Jinping has said that China needs to "promote the deepened integration of internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real economy"

  • Beijing intends for big data analytics to have broad applications across the government and the country as a whole; it is clear that China's national big data strategy is a whole-of-government effort.
  • China's public security forces have been enthusiastic to adopt big data analytics; the capability would significantly enhance their ability to fulfill their missions.
  • Big data analytics undergird China's Social Credit System, which will integrate big data–derived tools to assign reputational rankings to each Chinese citizen.
  • Chinese primary sources express a belief that mastery of big data analytics will better position China to win future military conflicts between great powers.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. government and conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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