The Other Silicon Valley: China’s Influence in the Tech Industry
For most people, it’s difficult to imagine a world without Facebook, Netflix, or Google. However, in China not only do people live without these internet behemoths, but they scarcely notice they’re missing.
Tight restrictions on foreign tech have fostered massive growth in China’s tech industry. Homegrown sites, apps, and other technology are wildly popular and dominate many aspects of daily life here. Amidst this frenetic development, China has evolved from impersonating foreign tech to developing its own. Now, tech innovations coming out of China easily match or in even surpass those from Silicon Valley.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest successes of China’s tech sector, and how they may influence their competitors elsewhere in the world.
China is leading the way in internet-based banking and investment. Financial technology (fintech) has surged ahead in China, and is now more sophisticated than anywhere else in the world. China alone accounts for half of the digital payments processed worldwide, thanks to an ever-increasing middle class. People in this demographic now conduct the majority of their personal and professional financial transactions through integrated web platforms: Smartphones essentially act as wallets for 65 per cent of mobile users.
Ease and speed of use have prompted widespread adoption of such fintech. Mobile apps such as Tencent’s WeChat - the all-in-one super app - are the ultimate streamlined product for the modern consumer. The WeChat Pay function can assist with everything from shopping, to food delivery, or hailing a taxi. It’s just a matter of time until the convenience of these fintech features reach the social media platforms of the West.
The rise of ‘unicorn’ companies
Part of the reason China’s tech sector is proving so successful is the massive entrepreneurial drive that is encouraging innovation at a grassroots level. The result is the world’s most dynamic startup scene - according to Premier Li Keqiang, 15,000 new enterprises are registered every day. Out of these startups, 34 unicorn companies (private companies worth more than $1 billion) have been born in the last three years. In fact, one in three unicorns is now being created in China.
While Silicon Valley is still the hub of global technological innovation, China’s economy and startup scene continue to thrive and Chinese innovations may soon surpass those coming out of the US.
Developing artificial intelligence
China has a clear strategic focus on artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of simply emulating the US, China is aiming to take the lead and the country has become a hub for AI development. Massive state support along with influence from a powerful private sector spearheaded by tech giants mean AI in China is charging ahead and may outpace the US sooner rather than later.
The premise of teaching software to behave like a human would makes it the perfect complement to e-commerce platforms - such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent (the ‘three kingdoms’ of Chinese tech, referred to collectively as BAT). Tencent and Alibaba both rival Facebook in terms of power, and they are throwing the full force of that influence behind AI. Alibaba recently announced that they would invest $15 billion in research and development of technology, including AI, over the next three years. The initiative will see specialized research labs set up and populated with the world’s top talent.
Although the US still outranks China in the amount being invested, the number of companies involved in AI, and the number of patents, China isn’t far behind. The New Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan released in July outlines a plan to ‘lead the world’ in AI by 2030. With the amount of money, energy, and optimism being invested, it’s entirely possible that the future of this technology will be defined by China.
There is still a long way for China to go before it completely surpasses the US in all things tech, but the day might come sooner than you think - stay ahead of the trend by investing in Mandarin lessons. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help your business and career goals in China take off.
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