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March 7, 2023updated 17 Mar 2023 8:39am

China’s plan for a new Data Bureau could help – or hinder – businesses

Plans for a new central body to manage information could make life easier for businesses in China, or further restrict them.

By Claudia Glover

China plans to collect all national, public, data into a central bureau under plans submitted to the Chinese government today. This promises a more streamlined approach to data governance as currently the country’s data is handled by several different agencies, but also could further restrict private companies from collecting information.

Chinese government to introduce its own Data Bureau to streamline the country’s data. (Photo by testing/Shutterstock)

Plans to set up the Data Bureau will be discussed at the National People’s Congress during its annual session on March 13, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese data governance to be handled by one Data Bureau

The administration for the new bureau, if successful, will be overseen by the National Development and Reform Commission. The body will have influence over the treatment of data that multinational companies generate in China and the export of Chinese data overseas. 

It would also be able to set and enforce data sharing and collection rules for businesses, such as barring them from collecting certain types of information. The new bureau could also have the power to investigate issues relating to the digital economy such as algorithmic regulation, digital addiction and cybersecurity.

“In today’s society, digital resources and the digital economy play a fundamental role in economic and social development, and are of great significance for building a new development pattern, building a modern economic system, and building new advantages in the competition between nations,” the plan says.

The new bureau may have been organised in order to limit the freedom of the private sector to collect data within China. Laws recently introduced also mean large organisations must undergo assessments about how they handle data, and obtain approval if they want to export it, and further regulations could follow once the bureau is up and running.

Alfredo Montufar-Helu, head of think tank The Conference Board’s China Center, told Reuters that having one single agency in charge should help address inefficiencies arising from overlapping jurisdictions between agencies and ministries.

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This “has been one of the key issues affecting regulatory compliance in China, and which authorities have tried to address over the past years,” he said.

China seeks to reduce Western influence on tech

China increasingly sees data as a national strategic asset, and will dedicate a significant part of the upcoming congress to discussing science and technology. As its trade war with the US rumbles on, it is seeking to boost domestic capabilities in areas such as chip-making and engineering.

The establishment of a data bureau shows a renewed emphasis on data governance, an issue which has problematic for many Chinese businesses, according to Tom Nunlist, a data policy analyst at Trivium China. “It definitely shows the government’s commitment to developing data as a strategic resource, and the belief that it needs its own department,” he told Bloomberg.

The new bureau is part of a government-wide shake-up as China also announces plans to strengthen oversight of its $60trn financial system. A national regulator will be established to streamline financial operations at the Chinese Central Bank, while the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission will cease to exist after the overhaul. The China Securities Regulatory Commission will become a government agency directly under the State Council.

Read more: This is how GPT-4 will be regulated

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