Tracing the Evolution of China’s Digital Economy – Past, Present and Future
Professor Alain Chong shared keen insights into the unique ways Chinese tech firms and applications operate in today’s competitive market.
The number of internet users has virtually tripled since the early 2000s, growing from 298 million in 2008 to 988.99 million in 2020. What’s more, 98 per cent of Chinese internet users are mobile.
As such, technology informs various aspects of everyday life in China – from browsing the news online to using ride-hailing and bike-sharing apps for commute; using apps for ordering food and groceries; even using apps for clocking in to work and having meetings. Instead of exchanging hardcopy business cards, working professionals simply add each other on WeChat – a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app. In turn, working in the technology scene in China is incredibly competitive and demanding.
At the same time, the entrepreneur-driven China is prepared to reshape and inspire some elements of technology across the world. For example: Years after WeChat Pay rose to become one of the top two mobile payment methods in China, WhatsApp is similarly building out its WhatsApp Pay feature after successfully launching in India.
Big and colourful personalities and social elements, as well as an understanding of the local culture, play a big part in Chinese applications. This is evident in their cute mascots and features that promote interconnected with friends and contacts.
While COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation throughout many parts of the world, China’s e-commerce industry in particular has seen significant growth as more Chinese people turn to mobile apps and spend more time online. In the midst of COVID-19 safety measures, people also spend a lot more time buying food and groceries, as well as personal hygiene products.
Other growing trends in China’s digital economy include 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, livestreaming, blockchain, and a dual circulation economy (which refers to a greater focus on the domestic market and native innovation, less reliance on China’s export-oriented development strategy).
China makes use of these technologies in unique ways. Big data helped produce hit television shows, capture fugitive criminals, and even contributes to their infamous social credit rating system – which could determine, for example, whether a person pays a deposit when renting a bike. 5G technology also supported China’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling doctors in Beijing to establish real-time communications with those in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak.
While China’s established internet titans – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (sometimes referred to as “BAT”) – may appear to have been born as clones of US companies like Google and eBay, these massive companies have since evolved in distinct new directions, and may even begin to inspire other tech firms across the world.
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