Inside China Tech: China to continue asserting ‘prolific dominance’ in tech despite coronavirus

Melissa Zhu

Hi, this is Melissa Zhu from the SCMP tech desk in Hong Kong rounding up some of our best stories this week.

If data is the new oil …

China’s economy may have suffered drastic effects from the coronavirus pandemic, but “ it would be a mistake” to assume the country has lost its influence, according to a US think tank.

“China has a rapidly-expanding middle class, an educated and trained workforce and a government that executes on long-term plans,” Future Today Institute said in its 2020 Tech Trends Report released on Monday, as Sarah Dai reports.

This picture taken on November 8, 2019 shows a boy laughing while running a code at a children's computer coding training centre in Beijing. Photo: AFP

The institute projected that China will continue to assert “prolific dominance” this year, as it races against the US and other countries for global leadership in areas such as AI, bioengineering and space exploration.

In the annual tech trends report, which is in its 13th year, Future Today highlighted China’s global leadership in artificial intelligence, aided by its collection of a surplus of data which can be used to train AI for applications from education and manufacturing to retail and military uses.

“If data is the new oil, then China is the new OPEC,” the report stated. “The country’s massive population – nearing 1.4 billion people – offers researchers and start-ups there command of what may be the most valuable natural resource in the future – human data – without the privacy and security restrictions common in much of the rest of the world.”

China has created ‘new world order’ in tech, says US think tank

Shoppers out and about

Showing another way data in China is being put to use, AutoNavi’s latest big data report showed that traffic in major shopping districts in China picked up by an average of 30 per cent over the past month, as consumer activity gradually returns to normal now that the coronavirus infection rate appears to have peaked in the country.

“Consumer confidence is starting to rebound as the coronavirus comes under control,” said Guo Ning, vice-president of AutoNavi, a maps app operated by Post parent company Alibaba Group Holding. “We are seeing more and more people stepping out, with offline consumption slowly recovering.”

AutoNavi’s mobile app users can search the names of malls and shops to see real-time traffic data – often used to avoid visiting malls at peak periods. AutoNavi said the average 30 per cent increase in traffic refers to the combined volume of people using the app to navigate shopping destinations, according to Yujie Xie, our new tech reporter.

People wearing face masks look for products at a supermarket, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The early sign of increased consumer activity in China contrasts with the panic and economic uncertainty now engulfing Europe and the US, as the widening pandemic forces governments around the world to take lessons from China on how to tackle the spread of the disease with curfews and social distancing measures.

Several countries in Europe have followed China’s lead in using map data to help fight the coronavirus: mobile carriers in Italy, Germany and Austria are sharing anonymous and aggregated data with health authorities so that the latter can monitor whether people are complying with curbs on movement.

China maps data shows gradual recovery in traffic around shopping areas

5G leadership unshaken

China is also still maintaining its position as a global 5G wireless network leader despite the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Che Pan reports.

Massive investment from Chinese state-owned mobile operators and growing enthusiasm from consumers and companies have all helped China maintain its global leadership in next-generation 5G wireless networks, according to a report published on Tuesday by GSMA, a trade body for mobile operators worldwide.

“China is leading in the early adoption of 5G and has already built more than 160,000 5G base stations covering more than 50 cities as operators aim to expand stand-alone 5G network coverage and capacity,” said Sihan Bo Chen, Head of Greater China at GSMA.

China Telecom technicians test an equipment at the 5G network base station near Yellow River in Lanzhou, Gansu province, China May 16, 2019. Photo: Reuters

Doubts have been raised in recent months though that China’s aggressive timetable for installing 5G base stations could be threatened by the coronavirus outbreak, which has seen large parts of the country locked down.

Nonetheless, China’s three largest telecoms operators – China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile – have been told by Beijing to accelerate the roll-out of 5G networks to support the digital transformation of the world’s second-largest economy.

GSMA says China maintains lead in 5G networks

That is all for this week!

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