AI Case Study
The AEI analyses China’s changing policy focus through tracking key media reports with machine learning
Weifeng Zhong, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and Julian Tszkin Chan of the Washington-based Bates White Economic Consulting firm, have developed a system to assess the policy priorities of the Chinese government. The system tracks the policies that appear on the People’s Daily front pages (and how often they do so) to develop an idea of what Beijing is thinking and planning. One finding is that the administration of President Xi Jinping has made limited changes in policy prioritisation compared to the previous administration. This apparoach has some similarities to analysing social media flows for sentiment analysis but with more significant time lags.
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"Now, an artificial intelligence program designed by an economist with an influential US think tank is analysing the party’s mouthpiece – and its propaganda – to provide those who report on the politics of China with a clearer idea of what Beijing is thinking and planning.
An AI programme developed in 2016 by Weifeng Zhong, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, with Julian Tszkin Chan of the Washington-based Bates White Economic Consulting firm, assesses the policy priorities of the Chinese government by observing what policies appear on the newspaper’s front pages and how often.
An algorithm in the newly launched program has read and memorised all the articles in People’s Daily, which was established in 1948, and in a predecessor publication which existed for two years before the newspaper’s official founding.
If the algorithm is constantly “surprised” by the policies that appear on the journal’s front page over a certain period, the conclusion is that the government is changing a policy – or adjusting the priorities underlying one.
The program already has reached a preliminary conclusion about the new administration of President Xi Jinping. Despite Xi's declaration that China has been in a “new era” since 2012, when Xi first took power, the programme has found “no change” in policy priorities compared with the previous administration.
“The status quo of policies in China had been the coexistence of maintaining the economic reform programme – though at a slower pace – and tackling social issues with populist policies,” Zhong argued in his paper.
The impetus for market reform began to ebb around 2004 during the administration of Hu Jintao under the slogan of Socialist Harmonious Society, coinciding with an increase in official wealth redistribution policies, Zhong wrote.
That said, the algorithm finds policy priorities under Xi the most difficult to comprehend, even more so than under the Chinese leaders of the 1980s, when intensive debates and factional struggles dragged on for almost an entire decade, Zhong said in an interview.
"For decades, People’s Daily, an official newspaper of the Communist Party, has been a must-read for China watchers – a window on the policies, people and perspectives the party wants to be the focus of attention. "
The program has identified no change in China's policy priorities of the new administration of President Xi Jinping.
The party's mouthpiece, newspaper headlines