TAIPEI, Taiwan – The angry bank customer who traveled to a central Chinese city to recover savings from troubled rural banks has been stopped by a mobile phone health app.
Chinese residents must have a health app that displays a code indicating their health status, including the possible impact of COVID-19. A green code is needed to use public transportation and access offices, restaurants and shopping malls. But some banks in central Henan province said their codes had turned red to stop them.
The event has sparked a national debate over how political forces have adopted a tool designed for public health to suppress controversy.
The problem started in April, when customers saw that they could not access online banking services. They tried to sue the bank and get the money back, but received no response.
Thousands of people who opened accounts in six rural banks in Henan and Anhui provinces began trying to extract savings when the media reported that the head of the main banking company was on the run. The majority of several bank shareholders, Sun Zhenfu, were wanted by the authorities for “serious financial crimes,” according to The Paper’s official media outlet.
Authorities were probably afraid of a bank flight, which is not uncommon with smaller Chinese banks, which tend to be more stable than their institutional counterparts.
Customers across the country connected to rural banks through financial platforms like JD Digits. There, small banks were selling financial products to customers, such as fixed-deposit accounts with higher interest rates, which required people to deposit their money within a certain period of time, according to Sixth Tone, sister of The Paper.
Unable to resolve the issue online, customers began this week to demand government action from the Chinese Bank of Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission in Henan Province, Zhengzhou. But when they got to the city, they saw that they could not go far.
In an account that has since been deleted from the WeChat social media app, a woman named Ai said that shortly after entering a hotel in Zhengzhou, a group of police asked her why she was there. He replied that he wanted to withdraw money from the bank. Shortly afterwards, he noticed that his health code had turned red, although he had had a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 48 hours.
A pandemic prevention worker immediately took him to a quarantine hotel.
Sixth Tone interviewed more than a dozen people in the city after scanning a QR code after their health codes turned red.
In China, places like train stations and grocery stores have QR codes to scan their tickets, record the presence of people, and track contacts during a pandemic. When people think they are at risk for COVID-19, their codes are put in different colors, which indicates restrictions, such as mandatory quarantine.
With the red health code, it is impossible to go to any public place or get on a train.
A bank customer, who gave his last name as Liu, said he saw a lot of people complaining that health codes had turned red after arriving in Zhengzhou.
Liu, who did not go to Zhengzhou himself, said he had tried the code change after being notified by others in a shared group chat. After someone scanned the QR code for a photo they shared with the group, Liu also noticed that his health code had turned red.
Another customer of the bank told Sixth Tone that he had obtained a red code after being scanned at the Zhengzhou train station and had been taken into police custody. Within hours of the police leaving Zhengzhout, his health code had turned green.
Jiakedao, a social media account run by the Communist Party’s main newspaper, was criticized by Henan officials in a third editorial.
“Let’s be honest, no matter what department or individual has pushed for, arbitrary use of epidemic prevention and control measures for‘ social governance ’or‘ maintaining stability ’must be held accountable,” the editorial said.
An official with the Henan Pandemic Control Committee responded in response to Jiakedao that authorities were investigating reports that the health codes were in red.