China Announces Plans for National Digital IDs

Premier Li Keqiang announced last week that the Chinese government would introduce a digital version of the national identification card this year, enabling better government services for an increasingly cyber-savvy population.

Speaking at the annual briefing at the end of the National People’s Congress, Li said one aim was to better meet the “basic living needs concerning daily lives” of more than 100 million citizens who lived away from their home province.

He said: “Some are elderly people living away from their hometown with their children in the other cities, some are there for jobs and education. They have to run back and forth to get things done. So getting things done interprovincially has become a new constant demand for the Chinese people.”

“One policy from the government this year is to make ID cards electronic, so that relevant information can be accessed by a simple scan of the code on the cellphone,” he said.

The premier added that the government would also provide convenience for those people – especially the elderly – who did not use smartphones and that there would be protocols to ensure information security and protect privacy.

China’s Ministry of Public Security, the lead administrator of China’s national ID system, started a pilot trial of digital IDs in 2018 with major Chinese state-owned banks and internet companies including Tencent and Alibaba Group, allowing residents in major cities including Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou and Fuzhou to apply for a digital version of the national identification card.

Tapping Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay, residents could employ facial recognition mechanisms to authenticate their virtual ID cards, which could be used in hotel registration, ticketing, banking and delivery services, among other things.

Virtual ID is currently accepted in more than 15 major cities in China.

Chen Qian, 40, an electronic product trader in Guangzhou, welcomed the expansion of the electronic ID Premier Li suggested.

Chen helped his parents to sign up for the digital ID and said cyber identification was better because “it combines all the ID documents into one digital code”.