A Beijing tech park better known for JD.com’s new headquarters and where Baidu tests its self-driving cars has pledged to reinvent itself as an artificial intelligence powerhouse after it was named a national AI industrialisation centre by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).
The Yizhuang county government in southeastern Beijing said Wednesday that over the next three to five years its goal is to build “a model base for significant AI applications” spread across 10 projects in areas such as smart city infrastructure and banking, with a target market value of at least 50 billion yuan (US$7.5 billion).
The announcement came a day after the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area (ETDA) in Yizhuang county was identified by MOST as the first AI hub under the decade old hi-tech industrialisation scheme.
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While Yizhuang itself does not host any significant AI companies, the ETDA owns Beijing E-Town International Investment and Development Co. Ltd, which said it has been involved with investments in almost 1,000 start-ups, including Megvii, an AI unicorn headquartered in Beijing’s northwestern Zhongguancun district.
The county is also the location for Apollo Park, where Baidu tests its autonomous driving vehicles.
Over the past decade the central government has named more than 200 hi-tech industrialisation hubs across the country, with the designated provinces receiving priority when it comes to allocation of resources. Outside Beijing, 10 new hubs were named this year, including two auto component locations in Jiangsu province and another for “basic electronic components” in Sichuan province.
The ministry has told local authorities to speed up the “integration and sharing of resources, build public service platforms for technological innovation, focus on institutional innovation … and improve the ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The world’s second largest economy is making all out efforts to transform from a manufacturing hub to a innovation-driven economy, a move that is creating friction with the US as the two nations compete for leadership in advanced technologies such as AI and 5G networks.
Data from MOST showed that materials, advanced manufacturing and energy accounted for 83 per cent of the hubs as of the end of 2013, while only 15 hubs, or 7 per cent of the total, were focused on information technology. However, in recent years new tech-related sectors have been added to the list, including new energy vehicles, virtual reality (VR) and big data, but materials and advanced manufacturing categories still make up the majority.
Yizhuang county is the first hub to be designated for AI, a sector that is now in the limelight amid the US-China tech war. Washington has added several Chinese AI start-ups, including Beijing-based SenseTime and Megvii, to its Entity List that restricts their ability to acquire American technology. The Trump Administration is also betting big on AI, unveiling plans in August to invest US$1 billion in AI and quantum science.
Beijing, home to leading Chinese universities like Tsinghua, was also headquarters for more than a quarter of AI companies in China as of March 2019, according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology.
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