SCMP’s China Internet Report 2020 finds that Covid-19 has accelerated digitisation of economy

Tracy Qu
·4-min read

The South China Morning Post on Tuesday launched its third edition of the China Internet Report, and in 2020 one theme dominates more than any other – the acceleration of digital trends as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis.

The pandemic has permanently changed how people in China are using technology in their everyday lives, with increased online consumption and more people than ever before working online.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has left a lasting and transformative impact on China’s internet industry and has dramatically changed media consumption behaviours across the country,” said Gary Liu, chief executive officer of the South China Morning Post.

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This report is essential reading for insights and new patterns on 5G development, AI, fintech and much more, all assembled from SCMP’s depth of access into and knowledge of China’ technology sector.”

China, which has over 900 million internet users, has seen the average daily time spent on the internet per user grow to 7.2 hours in March, compared with 5.6 hours in the same month a year ago. But this time it is not just shopping and gaming – people have been reaching out for public services, such as health care and education online.

The CIR 2020, produced by SCMP Research and based on SCMP reporting, finds that the global pandemic has had a profound impact on China’s technology landscape – accelerating media consumption and spurring innovative technology use cases to combat the virus itself. It takes a deeper look at 10 China technology sectors – including e-commerce, AI, chips, content and social media, 5G and healthtech.

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“SCMP has one of the largest desks dedicated to covering business and technology in China and we have been closely chronicling its digital-led industrial transformation and drive to be a global leader for innovation,” said Tammy Tam, editor in chief at SCMP.

“Our access and knowledge about China’s tech landscape continues to provide unparalleled insights and we’re pleased to contribute our expertise to this year’s edition of the China Internet Report.”

Employees rehearse hosting a live-stream session for the upcoming Canton Fair inside a showroom at Ningbo MH Industry Co. in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Photo: Bloomberg
Employees rehearse hosting a live-stream session for the upcoming Canton Fair inside a showroom at Ningbo MH Industry Co. in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Photo: Bloomberg

In the education arena, China’s prestigious Tsinghua University this year offered online courses to people on short video app Douyin during the pandemic. In the health sphere, China implemented a national initiative to assign residents with coloured QR codes, using big data to assign health risk levels.

China’s push for self-reliance in strategic technologies such as artificial intelligence and semiconductors amid escalating tech tensions with the US remains another key theme – as does Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei and its push to lead the global 5G network market.

Although China still needs to import many core components and lags in overall chip production capabilities, some experts see a chance that it can close the gap – specifically with AI chips – according to the report.

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Meanwhile, China is pushing ahead with an aggressive buildout of 5G networks in 2020, which should also see the introduction of modestly-priced 5G handsets – ushering in a new mobile era. The 5G market is expected to hit US$70-85 billion in 2020 with an estimated 160-175 million 5G subscribers, according to the report.

The rise of live streaming as an important new sales channel – even for conventional businesses such as luxury goods, real estate and travel – is another theme. James Liang Jianzhang, co-founder and chairman of Trip.com, attracted 1.2 million viewers to his live stream this year.

Amid a worsening international climate and a more favourable regulatory environment, many Chinese tech companies have sought to list or dual-list on exchanges in Hong Kong and mainland China. In June 2019, China launched its new Science and Technology Innovation Board, or “STAR market”, which has so far outperformed traditional boards in China.

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