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Accepted Paper:

China time machines: the temporal ideologies of Chinese digital loans in southeast Asia  
Yichen Rao (Utrecht University)

Short abstract:

It discusses how Chinese digital entrepreneurs see themselves as 'time travellers" in Southeast Asian market. By adapting the predatory "cash loan" models and credit algorithms that once worked in China , they achieve certain temporal agencies in Southeast Asian market.

Long abstract:

Starting in 2017, Chinese fintech companies began introducing a specific digital loan product to the Southeast Asian market. Known as "cash loans," the product is an unsecured payday loan with data-driven instant approval, digital money transfers, and predatory interest rates and collections. Once popular and lucrative in China before heavy regulation in 2017, the model has been characterized by Chinese media as a "debt scam" that manipulates people and causes individual over-indebtedness. Based on ethnographic data, I trace how Chinese entrepreneurs reproduce cash loans in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries with specific temporal ideologies. On the one hand, based on their experiences in the Chinese digital market, they believe that Indonesia today is just like China ten years ago in terms of infrastructure and regulations. They feel like "time travelers" who can use their memories to reproduce market success by copying models that worked for infrastructures and regulatory environments in China. On the other hand, they are adapting certain temporal-spatial logics for algorithmic risk assessment that have been well tested in China's fintech market. The credit apps monitor borrowers' smartphone behavior to capture temporal data. The data feeds algorithmic models that generate credit scores for people with no recorded financial history. I use "China time machines" to describe the devices that assemble different temporal-spatial ideologies in the trans-Asian market-making of Chinese digital capital. Chinese digital capital has become a defining force in the global South through the rapid circulation of "China time machines" in underdeveloped and under-regulated digital markets.

Traditional Open Panel P293
Unveiling Chinese digital capital in global mobilities and encounters
  Session 1 Friday 19 July, 2024, -