Baidu’s CEO calls for innovation partnerships on first trip to India, the next battleground for Chinese tech giants

Sarah Dai

Robin Li, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Chinese search giant Baidu, has made his first visit to India, a market increasingly seen as the next frontier for Chinese tech companies thanks to its nearly half a billion internet users.

Speaking to the Indian Institute of Technology, known as the country’s equivalent of MIT, Li said Baidu was keen to partner with local institutions for innovation, according to a transcript of his comments provided by the company.

“India is one of the fastest-growing smartphone markets in the world, and is also a very large developing country right next to China,” he said on Saturday. “For the next decade, there will be more opportunities [for China and India].”

Li expects artificial intelligence to bring sweeping transformations to industries including customer service, education, transport and drug discovery.

“Going forward, we are entering a new age, the age of AI … if we can see [how] the internet changed the way we consume, or the way we entertain ourselves, the intelligent economy will change the way we produce. It will significantly improve productivity for humans,” he said.

Indian millennials and ‘silver wave’ shoppers will define 2020s trends

Li’s visit comes as Chinese tech companies ranging from Bytedance to Xiaomi are making big strides in the country, a market of 451 million internet users but with only a 36 per cent penetration rate, according to data by Nielsen and the Internet and Mobile Association of India. US internet giants like Facebook and Google are also major players in the market.

Last month, Xiaomi, the top Chinese smartphone vendor in India, partnered with local fintech firms to introduce an online lending service targeting the country’s millennials to encourage them to buy its smartphones. In March last year, the Beijing-based company also launched a payment app in India that has amassed over 20 million registered users.

Chinese apps, which lead in categories such as gaming, news, entertainment and utilities, held a combined 38 per cent share of the top 200 apps in Indian editions of Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store last year, only second to domestic developers, according to a report by research firm AppsFlyer.

“India’s growth has been nothing short of impressive,” noted the report, adding that the country has overtaken the US in terms of the highest number of non-organic installations, while foreign players have begun to sit up and “take notice of India’s extraordinary rise”.

India is one of the largest foreign markets for ByteDance, operator of the hugely popular TikTok short video platform. Separately, Alibaba Group and its affiliate Ant Financial have invested in at least five Indian unicorns, private companies valued at US$1 billion or above, including the country’s largest mobile payment start-up Paytm, online grocery BigBasket and food delivery platform Zomato.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Tencent has also bet big in India, with investments in food delivery start-up Swiggy and e-commerce platform Flipkart.

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