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In September 2017, General Party Secretary Xi Jinping highlighted the concept of “automating” social management when he called for: “a more systematic and innovative social governance, stressing the need to improve the capability to predict and prevent security risks.”50 The approach Xi described includes the use of technology to help “automate” the social management process. Technology, however, is only one part of a version of authoritarianism being designed since the late 1970s that both embodies and applies complex systems engineering.

The Communist Party must achieve “dependability” in order to continue to secure power. Success in this task requires effective pre-emption and management of all threats to state security. In order to continue building dependability, the Party must always revisit the basic requirements of: [1] ensuring that the Party rank-and-file serve the interests of the Party core; [2] ensuring that the relationship between the Party and society remains stable enough, so that instability never goes beyond the Party leadership’s control. It is the reason why social management, visualized through the ANS framework, is the process that programs China’s state security.

The ANS framework demonstrates that we are witnessing a version of authoritarianism in the PRC that combines both soft and hard elements. This version of authoritarianism is augmented through technology. The critical difference between the ANS framework and traditional approaches for understanding Chinese authoritarianism is that it argues that Chinese authoritarianism cannot be measured through traditional scales of “reform” on the one end versus “retrenchment” on the other. China’s authoritarianism is designed so that in its ideal form both “soft” and “hard” elements constantly act together.

The process of ensuring that the Party remains in power will likely always require a huge amount of the leadership’s resources, even if the “automation” objective succeeds. Ultimately, the success of social management, visualized through the framework of China’s ANS, is the critical determinant of the Party’s preservation of power. From the Party’s perspective, the only way to effectively mitigate threat is through pre-emption. Failure to pre-emptively manage threats could mean that in the event of a cascading series of crises in which the Party’s legitimacy is challenged, the Party has already lost before any physical battle actually begins.