Internet giant Tencent pledges to invest in Wuhan as city emerges from coronavirus lockdown

Iris Deng

A day before China lifted a months-long lockdown of Wuhan city, the initial epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings pledged to invest in digital government, online education and artificial intelligence (AI) in the city, among other fields.

“During the epidemic, Tencent has been supporting Hubei and Wuhan’s fight against the virus through funds and technology,” the company best known for its gaming business said in a statement posted on Tuesday on WeChat. “In the future, we will also fully support Wuhan’s post-pandemic reconstruction and continue to support the development of Wuhan's digital industry.”

China’s major tech companies have played a big role in the fight against the coronavirus, and are now playing their part in the economic recovery of Wuhan and other areas that have suffered under extended travel restrictions and business closures.

Last week, China’s biggest e-commerce services providers Alibaba Group Holding, JD.com and Pinduoduo each announced their own initiatives to help revive sales of farm goods from Hubei as the province emerges from its months-long lockdown.

Popular mobile payments app Alipay also created a dedicated section for Wuhan merchants to allow users to buy from merchants in the city, and offered loans to small local merchants in need of financial support, according to an Alipay statement. Alipay is operated by Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post.

How tech has helped China in its public health battle with coronavirus

Wuhan, an industrial powerhouse for the steel, semiconductors and automotive sectors, is emerging from an unprecedented lockdown which began on January 23 and prevented people from moving in and out of the city.

Since restrictions began easing gradually in late March, business activity has shown signs of recovery: Tencent’s mobile payment platform WeChat Pay recorded a 162 per cent increase in offline transactions in a 10-day period from March 25, compared to the same period the previous month, according to a separate statement by Tencent on Wednesday.

Searches for “work resumption certificates” – which businesses need to submit to local authorities to prove their staff can safely restart work – also increased 320 per cent on Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, in the past month, Baidu said in a report on Wednesday.

Tencent declined to provide specific details regarding the size of its latest investment in Wuhan or a timeline for its implementation, but said in the statement that it will involve closer cooperation with city authorities in the areas of digital government, education, smart mobility, AI and cybersecurity to help the city with its digital industries.

Among these initiatives, it will push ahead with a plan to build a headquarters focusing on digital industries in Wuhan, specifically digitalisation for the government and smart city initiatives.

It will also establish a base in Wuhan for its online education initiatives, set up an AI lab and cybersecurity academy and build a school focusing on smart mobility in collaboration with Chinese carmaker Dongfeng Motor Corporation, the company said in the statement.

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