China's largest automaker has launched a car that can teach its occupants the ideology of ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping.
SAIC Motor and Banma's AI subsidiary Banma Zhixing installed a version of Alibaba's Xuexi Qiangguo app, which teaches Xi Jinping Thought to users, on SAIC's Roewe RX5 PLUS SUV, to mark the forthcoming CCP centenary on July 1.
The app, which is being aggressively promoted by the CCP as a tool for ideological education across China, will offer RX5 PLUS drivers "one-click access" to Xi Jinping Thought.
An employee who answered the phone at Banma Zhixing, which is closely involved in China's plan to build an "Internet of vehicles," confirmed the car was now available.
"Yes, we can use the Xuexi Qiangguo app in a car now," the employee said. "Right now, only the RX5 PLUS can have this upgrade, which isn't being offered in other models just yet."
"You can open the app by clicking on the Xuexi Qiangguo icon, or by saying 'Hello Banma, I want to listen to Xuexi Qiangguo'," the employee said.
France-based commentator Wang Longmen said the Xuexi Qiangguo app is known to collect information about its users.
"This app, Xuexi Qiangguo, was discovered a while back to be collecting citizens' data," Wang said. "This means that if you install the app in your car, the authorities will be able to track your whereabouts."
A recent investigation by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) and security researchers at Cure53 into the app found that it contains code "resembling a backdoor" which is able to run arbitrary commands on Android devices with superuser privileges.
It is likely, judging from the code, that the backdoor was created and is maintained by Alibaba or Alibaba Cloud, the report said.
It found that the backdoor would work on rooted devices—such as smartphones running the Android operating system—to grant someone superuser privileges enabling them to change anything they wish on that particular device.
Wang said Chinese companies are increasingly offering "patriotic" gimmicks linked to the CCP centenary in the hope of generating more sales, as customers seek to demonstrate their loyalty to Xi and to the CCP.
"It's pretty disgusting that SAIC is turning the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP into a marketing gimmick," Wang said. "Anyone with good judgment should boycott this product."
Wang said Xuexi Qiangguo is a modern-day equivalent of the once-ubiquitous "Little Red Book" of sayings attributed to late supreme leader Mao Zedong, that became hugely popular during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"This is just like the Little Red Book of the Mao era," Wang said. "Nearly a half-century later, Xuexi Qiangguo is recording data about people's lives, even when they're driving."
"This is Xi Jinping's Cultural Revolution 2.0, aimed at brainwashing and controlling the population using high-tech totalitarianism," he said.
Anonymous Twitter user Director 1, who often tweets satire about Xi using the account @GFWFrog, said the car's launch has taken the personality cult around the general secretary to a new level.
"There is going to be more and more dumb stuff like this, the closer we get to the 20th Party Congress [in 2022]," Director 1 said.
"In the past few years, we have seen Xi Jinping's footprints, the floor tiles he stood on, the electric car he rode in and even the public toilets he visited turn into tourist attractions," he said.
"There is a constant flow of new Xi-loving items being developed, like Xuexi Qiangguo," Director 1 said. "In this CCP centenary year, Xi Jinping Thought is everywhere."
"You won't even be able to escape it taking the subway," he said.
Moving into satire, Director 1 warned people that the car might also order up a serving some of Xi's favorite dishes, or report them to the authorities if they said something disrespectful of the CCP.
"Always remember that Winnie the Pooh is watching you," the comedian said, using a banned trope likening Xi's appearance to that of Disney's depiction of the fictional bear.
Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he has abolished term limits for the presidency, and is currently embarked on a second, indefinite term in office.
His administration has engaged in ever-widening efforts to strengthen the Communist Party's grip on all forms of public expression, and the app represents one of the most ambitious forms of political indoctrination the ruling party has ever undertaken.
At the heart of the app's content is the concept of Xi Jinping Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, a hodgepodge of ideas that include strong nationalistic fervor in the form of "self-confidence," and a commitment to export the Chinese model of government around the world, in a direct challenge to "Western" liberal notions of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
According to the OTF, an affiliate of RFA, the Chinese government recently announced that the app will also deliver political testing to Chinese journalists, all of whom will be required to take a test of their loyalty to the party in order to have their press credentials renewed.
Reported by Yitong Wu and Chingman for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.