German journalist Kai Strittmatter speaks fluent Mandarin and has studied China for more than 30 years. He says it's not clear whether or not the Chinese government is capable of using facial recognition software in the way it claims. But he adds, on a certain level, the veracity of the claim isn't important. "It doesn't even matter whether it's true or not, as long as people believe it," he says. "What the Communist Party is doing with all this high-tech surveillance technology now is they're trying to internalize control. ... Once you believe it's true, it's like you don't even need the policemen at the corner anymore, because you're becoming your own policeman."
Strittmatter's new book, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State, examines the role of surveillance in China's authoritarian state. He warns that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012, has embraced an ideological rigidity unknown since the days of Mao Zedong.