Rising tech entrepreneurs at two sessions

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/8 18:35:13 Last Updated: 2018/3/10 7:40:37

‘Digital China’ a key focus point at annual meeting as vision to integrate internet with traditional industries materializes


Lei Jun, founder of Chinese tech firm Xiaomi, was surrounded by journalists at two sessions on Monday. Photo: IC

Hundreds of reporters from all over the country gathered at a hotel in Beijing on March 3, waiting for the richest man in China, who would speak to the public in his capacity as a deputy to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC).

"This is my second time meeting Pony," said a woman journalist from Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, referring to Ma Huateng, founder of one of the most valuable tech companies in Asia, Tencent Holdings.

Representatives from Chinese tech companies have been seeing stronger presence at the most important annual political events across the country in recent years.

"It's the sixth year for me to participate in two sessions, and I've proposed 22 suggestions for the past five years," Ma told the press briefing.

China has entered into the "two sessions" period as the first session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) convened on March 3 and as the first session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) took over on Monday.

While the number of property tycoons has been slashed by half among NPC deputies and CPPCC members this year, the number of tech entrepreneurs has hit a new record. 

In 2017, there were 52 NPC deputies and CPPCC members from the real estate sector, the Beijing-based China Business Journal reported on March 3, with that number declining to just 32 this year.

"This change reflects the government's commitments to economic restructuring, as China has been shifting from a resource-dependent country to an innovation-driven one," said Li Yi, a senior research fellow at the Internet Research Center under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "Two sessions deputies and members come from different domains, and those from the economic milieu represent pillar industries," he told the Global Times on Monday.

Delegates from the internet sector replaced some from traditional sectors such as real estate and mining, which is in line with the government's efforts to upgrade industries, Li noted.

Examples of fresh business faces from the internet sector at the annual political event include entrepreneurs such as Ding Lei, CEO of NASDAQ-listed internet firm NetEase, and  Liu Qiangdong, founder of e-commerce firm JD.com Inc and Zhou Hongyi, CEO of Qihoo 360 Technology Inc, who all attended for the first time this year. The three entrepreneurs are also CPPCC members this year.

While the domestic housing market has been cooling down following the central government's efforts to tackle speculative activities, technology has been a major contributor to China's economy, said Liu Dingding, a veteran industry analyst.

China's digital economy reached 22.58 trillion yuan (about $3.4 trillion) in December 2017, accounting for 30 percent of the national GDP, according to reports issued at the 4th World Internet Conference held that same month in Wuzhen, East China's Zhejiang Province.

Several tech entrepreneurs attending the meeting are among the top ten wealthiest NPC deputies and CPPCC members, according to a report issued by Hurun Report Inc on March 2. Ma of Tencent and Lei Jun, founder of Chinese tech firm Xiaomi Inc, were ranked the No.1 and No.3 richest NPC deputies, respectively. And others like Ding from NetEast, Li Yanhong of Baidu Inc and Liu from JD are also on the Hurun Richest Delegates to the NPC and CPPCC 2018 list.

Internet-related suggestions

"After I suggested boosting economic growth by integrating the internet with industries in 2015, fortunately, the central government launched its 'internet plus' initiative, which has been embraced by many provinces and regions in the past two years," Ma told the press conference.

As more industries enter a period of radical change, driven by widespread adoption of the internet, "we've been seeing more users of big data, computer science and AI [artificial intelligence], so my suggestions for this year's two sessions is to accelerate the establishment of 'Digital China,'" he said.

Ma added that the use of the internet should go further beyond consumption to other traditional sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, finance, medical and education.

Other tech entrepreneurs also suggested building a smart government, smart companies and smart cities with the help of big data.

Sun Pishu, an NPC deputy and CEO of Chinese information technology company Inspur Co Ltd, suggested streamlining administrative procedures by using internet and open databases, according to a note the company sent to the Global Times.

Yang Yuanqing, an NPC deputy and CEO of Lenovo, also suggested that AI should be used in helping the real economy. For example, hospitals are encouraged to use big data to improve medical services and tackle issues dubbed "information isolated island," he said in a statement Lenovo sent to the Global Times. 

"It clearly shows that the development of the internet will have a positive effect on social well-being, which will go through transitions from entertainment to consumption to industrial revolution," said Liu, the analyst.

However, among the 19 tech entrepreneurs who are attending this year's two sessions as deputies and members, at least four of them are focused on internet security, he noted.

"The government considers internet security a top priority… and the country still faces challenges in further enhancing cybersecurity while propelling internet development," Liu said.

No more concept, but more action

In a Government Work Report delivered to the first session of the 13th NPC on Monday, Premier Li Keqiang reiterated that investment in the technology sector should aim to improve social well-being, while the internet should be used in more related sectors like medical services and education.

"This year's report was based on the central government's 'internet plus' initiative outline from 2015, which has been mentioned about 18 times," said Li Yi, the expert. "There is no new concept or idea concerning internet development, which is in fact a good thing."

When top planners come up with new ideas, local governments have to take much more time to understand such ideas instead of taking immediate concrete actions, he noted. 

Also, some companies have merely hyped up the concept of internet plus without actually taking action in research, which has been followed by the bubble that has been bursting in the industry over the past few years.

"No more new concepts, it's time to work on fully integrating the internet into different industries," Li Yi said.


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