Tencent’s WeChat allows residents in China’s most populous province to skip government queues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 9:03am

WeChat, China’s most popular smartphone app with more than 1 billion active users, now enables residents in southern China’s Guangdong province to skip the queues at government offices and face-to-face talks with civil servants.

That convenience is made possible by a WeChat Mini Program called Yue Sheng Shi, roughly translated in English as “saving the trouble in Guangdong”, which can handle 142 different local government functions, according to an announcement on Monday by Tencent Holdings via its official WeChat account.

The functions made available on the platform included payment of traffic ticket, making appointment for marriage registration, and extending visa on passports and other travel documents, as well as others related to medical care, social security and labour arbitration.

Users in Guangdong, China’s most populous province, are required to register for this WeChat-based initiative with their real names and other personal information to access all the functions. 

WeChat poised to become China’s official electronic ID system

This marks the latest public-sector initiative in which Tencent’s WeChat, known as Weixin on the mainland, is being turned into a vital application for government services.

Using WeChat as an electronic repository for all that data of residents in Guangdong also represents another example of how the country’s hi-tech giants, such as Tencent, are gaining wider access to people’s private information through various digital services.

WeChat’s Mini Program platform already connects users across a wide spectrum of online and offline services, including retail, e-commerce, utilities and games. At the end of January, WeChat had 580,000 different mini programs, with more than 170 million daily active users.

Guangdong had a population of 112 million at the end of last year, according to the provincial statistics bureau. That is bigger than the combined population of Germany and Australia.

The southern coastal province has been spearheading the country’s push to digitise government services with the largest number of public service functions and active users, according to the Tencent announcement.

The Shenzhen-based internet giant and telecommunications network operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom last year jointly established their “Digital Guangdong” programme to digitise government services in the province. 

In December last year, the government of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, started a pilot programme that creates a virtual ID card, which serves the same purpose as the traditional state-issued ID cards, through the WeChat accounts of registered users in the city’s Nansha district. That trial has started to roll out across the country this year.

China’s social security system turns to WeChat for electronic ID

That programme’s success would mark one of the most significant milestones for WeChat after it was initially rolled out by Tencent as a mobile messaging service in 2011, and then evolved into the country’s largest social network, as well as a popular online platform for payments and money transfers.

Guangzhou’s WeChat programme, however, is not China’s first experiment to develop electronic ID cards using a smartphone app.

In June 2016, the branch of the Public Security Bureau in the city of Wuhan, capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, teamed up with Alipay to launch an electronic ID card service.

That project with Alipay, China’s largest payments platform operator and a unit of Ant Financial Services Group, also aimed to promote the use of electronic ID card in scenarios such as hotel check-in and going through security inspection at railway stations and airports.

Ant Financial is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, parent company of the South China Morning Post.