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The 2021 edition of the China Internet Report looks at how the country's tech industry is changing as it copes with new pressures. Illustration: SCMP

How China’s internet continues to rapidly change and why you should care

  • China added 85 million new internet users last year, averaging 161 per minute
  • Emerging trends point to the rise of Chinese tech significantly influencing the future of technology around the world

Dear reader,

By the time you reach the end of this letter, almost 1,000 Chinese citizens will have accessed the internet for the first time.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last year, China added 85 million new internet users, averaging 161 per minute. By comparison, 266 babies were born per minute globally last year.

China has been the world’s biggest online community for more than a decade. Today that figure is more than 1 billion, larger than the combined populations of the US, Russia, Mexico, Germany, UK, France, and Canada.

Not only have more people come online, but Chinese companies – like Alibaba Group Holding (owner of the South China Morning Post), Tencent Holdings, Baidu, Huawei Technologies, and ByteDance – have also supercharged the growth of the country’s online economy.


Tightened regulations among key trends shaping China’s internet in 2021

Tightened regulations among key trends shaping China’s internet in 2021
These digital enterprises provide essential services across a wide array of sectors including e-commerce, content and media, social media and messaging, 5G, artificial intelligence, smartphones and smart devices, autonomous cars, fintech, online education, and health care.

So why should this matter to you?

The internet has revolutionised nearly every aspect of our lives and the trends we now see emerging point to the rise of Chinese tech significantly influencing the future of technology around the world.

Following a period of rapid growth and innovation, China’s tech sector has entered a new phase with both push and pull factors, forcing internet companies to evolve.

Beijing has clearly shown that the rapidly growing tech sector must align with broader national strategic objectives and public interest. A sector that previously experienced a relatively free hand now finds itself increasingly boxed in by regulations in three key areas: antitrust, data security and finance and capital controls (via fintech and cryptocurrencies).
Tightening regulations and sweeping crackdowns beginning in the latter half of 2020 have resulted in Chinese tech stocks losing over US$1 trillion in value. That is more than Singapore’s entire equity market, the biggest in Southeast Asia.
We unpacked and explained these major global repercussions in this year’s edition of the China Internet Report . We also analyse the potential long-term impact of tighter government controls on the increasingly tech-driven economy.
Our new report examines growing geopolitical tensions that have led to changing expansion strategies in Southeast Asia and looks into shifting demographics in China that have revealed new areas of growth.

As the Chinese tech industry continues to grow its global influence, we must understand how it will impact our digital world and global affairs.

Since our first China Internet Report in 2018, we’ve helped explain the country’s dynamic internet industry, its technology-led transformation and new tech business models such as China’s wide adoption of 5G, its massive scale of AI applications and its path towards becoming a cashless economy.

We hope that with this year’s report you will discover the insights you need to navigate China’s fast-evolving internet landscape.

Warm regards,

John Artman

SCMP Editor, Technology