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IN DEPTH: An important milestone
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An important milestone
By John Feng

BT 201904 INVESTMENT 01重要的里程碑

中国被视为廉价低质产品制造商的日子已经是过去式了。中国经济从劳动密集型产业和廉价仿制品转向高科技和自动化工厂,这些工厂现在决定了全世界的科技趋势。

成功案例

人工智能:11月1日的百度世界大会上,百度创始人、董事长兼CEO李彦宏宣布:百度和海淀区一同打造的全球首个AI公园!海淀公园变成了一所AI公园!此次海淀公园的AI升级,包含了百度阿波龙L4级别自动驾驶巴士的落地运营,以及智能步道、小度智能语音亭、未来空间等智能设施。

支付: 十年前,人们的出门口诀“伸手要钱”,即身份证、手机、钥匙、钱包。十年过去了,你有多久没有用过这个口诀了呢?这就是“科技改变生活“,曾经的身份证,如今用支付宝信用就可以代替;曾经的钥匙开门的锁,逐渐变为指纹锁;曾经的现金也逐渐变为电子钱包,扫码支付。如今出门,只需要带好手机,连现金都不用带,现金交易逐渐被扫码支付代替。

The days when China was seen as a cheap manufacturer of low-quality products are way behind us. The economy shifted from labour-intensive industries and cheap imitations to highly technological and automatized factories that now dictate tech trends all over the world.
 

Some industries are on the forefront of technological innovation and some companies are in a quest to becoming worldwide leaders. On the other side, there are challenges that arise from such innovation, both in terms of the social and governance landscape.
 

Successes

Artificial Intelligence: The ambition to surpass the United States as the biggest investor in AI went from a governmental mission to a very plausible reality. The efforts are paying dividends and China is not only the leader in fusing AI with fintech, but has also developed amazing projects, such as the Baidu-sponsored AI Park. Here, you can enjoy “autonomous buses, smart walkways tracking people's steps using facial recognition, intelligent pavilions equipped with the company's conversational system DuerOS, and augmented reality Tai Chi lessons”. Moreover, the giant AliBaba is also investing heavily in AI to anticipate fraud and other problems and to improve customer service.

BT 201904 in depth 03
Finance: There might be no other country where mobile payments are so rooted in the culture as China. Nowadays, in the biggest cities, paper money, let alone coins, are just a formality. Payments through QR codes using mobile-phones are the most common application of financial innovation in China, but it is also possible to get instant loans through a phone app or a one-time credit approval by a bank. In addition to this, social-media credit ratings are also a trend and allow neglected users to have access to credit. The impact on small and medium enterprises’ growth is outstanding, as well as individuals who sell goods online, which already account for 40% of total consumers.

BT 201904 in depth 04Social Media: WeChat is the main social media app in China, but it is so much more than that. The amount of features and incorporations with other services is so huge that the app is being positioned as a “do-it-all”. From ordering services, such as taxis, haircuts or food (to be eaten at home or at the restaurant), there is a never-ending range of possibilities within one single app. Besides this, the omni channel marketing that such app allows is just incredible. The distinction between offline and online stores and services is becoming thinner as retailers allow almost the same experience, whether you buy online through VR catalogues or you go to the stores, try the product and it will be delivered in your house.

BT 201904 in depth 05There are so many more industries where China is reshaping the innovation standard that I could create a whole series of articles. Phones with two screens (one in the front and one in the back), drones and high-tech machinery for agricultural use, and even artificial moons to control city lighting… Well, there are precedents for every taste.
 

Challenges

As in any situation, there are always things that could be better. The rapid growth allied with never-ending innovation creates gaps in certain areas of society.
 

Governance: Not only due to the size of both population and country, but also the nature of the governance system, this is an important area. On one hand, the heavy investment in public and private infrastructures has mainly been done in big metropolitan areas, giving room to desertification of other areas. On the other hand, due to the centralization properties, the flow of information and decisions has to go a long way to arrive to top government officials. This can create a gap between regions of the country.

BT 201904 in depth 06Intellectual Property: Some years ago, it was liberating that the rules were not very tight and it allowed for the import of technologies from other countries with low costs. But now, being an innovation hub, the same rules might constitute a problem, even in the domestic market. President Xi Jinping stated that the problem should be addressed, but it seems that it has not been done too fast, due to the lack of power by authorities to enforce it and the lack of power on the regulation itself.

BT 201904 in depth 07Environmental Issues: These are still a problem that escalated in the past 40 years. Now the situation has improved a lot and it is true that China is a leader in “green” technologies. Moreover, the authorities are focused on chasing transgressors, with the number of arrests going up 51,5% in 2018. Notwithstanding, the level of water, air, and land pollution will take its time to “heal” and these measures, taken by the government, need to be kept in place for the years to come.

BT 201904 in depth 08Wrapping Up

It is quite clear that most of industries in China have experienced tremendous growth and even became market leaders. However, when we consider the country as a whole, the challenges are still numerous and there is a lot of work to be done. The country’s fast evolution is unstopped and the limit still far from our imagination, due to the great and innovative projects still under development.
 

But one thing is for sure: the future is already being written in Mandarin!

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