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Put off by Trump? Baidu’s Li urges Silicon Valley talent to call China home

Founder of the dominant Chinese search engine urges Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and coders to set up shop in China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 11:15pm

Software coders, engineers and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are welcomed in China if they are put off by the anti-immigration comments espoused by the president-elect of the United States, said Baidu Inc’s founder and chairman Robin Li.

Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News and strategy adviser to Donald Trump, noted during a November 2015 interview with Trump on the website’s Sirius XM radio talk show that two-thirds or three-quarters of Silicon Valley’s CEOs are from South Asia or from Asia, according to a Washington Post report this week.

“I hope these migrants would come to China, so that the country can play a bigger role in the world’s innovations,” Li said on Friday during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. “Many entrepreneurs have said that they are worried that Trump’s victory will hurt creativity in the US.”

China, home to the world’s largest Internet-using population and biggest number of smartphone users, is throwing its doors open to attract talent and capital to help give the country a leg up in technology.

Interested technologists and entrepreneurs will have to contend with China’s “cyberspace sovereignty,” espoused by president Xi Jinping last year in Wuzhen and reiterated this year by the Communist Party’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, an unambiguous affirmation of Beijing’s tight grip on censorship and control of the Internet.

Still, the country’s size and growth pace offer rewards for entrepreneurs who are willing to live without accessing Facebook, Twitter, Google, or websites including The New York Times, and the South China Morning Post. Baidu, operator of the dominant Internet search engine in China, owes almost all its revenue to the country’s advertisers and users.

“China is the largest internet market in the world, and it’s also the fastest-growing market,” Li said. “I hope more talent comes to China, and we can embrace entrepreneurship together.”

Along with larger peers Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group -- which owns the South China Morning Post -- Baidu is at the forefront of China’s push to harness artificial intelligence to drive its business growth.

This week, Baidu showed off a fleet of 18 self-driving cars in Wuzhen, demonstrating its ability to power vehicles using its AI technology.

The lack of talents in the field has been a bottleneck that’s stumped the industry’s progress, analysts said.

There’s urgent demand for engineers specialising in artificial intelligence in China, but the current education system is unable to churn out enough talent, said Hao Jian, chief consultant at online recruiter Zhaopin.com

“China’s college training is unable to catch up with the changes in the Internet sector, forcing many companies to look overseas for talent,” he said.

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