The Next Big Thing

Global tech events expand to China amid fast rise of both local buyers and manufacturers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 March, 2015, 8:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 March, 2015, 8:07am

China's transition from a manufacturer of hi-tech gadgets to one of the world's leading consumers of smartphones and other devices has not only grabbed the attention of global tech firms, but also helped bring some of the industry's most influential events to the country for the first time.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the most closely watched tech and innovation events in the world held every year in Las Vegas, will take place in Shanghai for the first time in late May under the title of "CES Asia", the organiser said this month.

It will be the first time CES has been held outside of the US, as organisers Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) aim to expand the reach of their audience in Asia and around the world.

Many game-changing products have been announced at past CES events over the show's more than three decade history, including Sony's videocassette recorder (1970), Microsoft's games console Xbox (2001) and earlier this year Google's Android-based "Smart TVs". In more recent years, Chinese tech firms such as Lenovo and ZTE have also used CES to launch new products ranging from laptops to smartphones.

CES is not alone in its ambition to reach Chinese consumers and manufacturers on their home turf. Re/Code, the tech news site co-founded by influential tech writer Walt Mossberg, will also host an Asia-focused industry event, "Code Conference/Asia" in Hong Kong in late November.

Tencent, one of China's "big three" tech firms, is a founding partner of the event, tickets for which will go on sale for US$3,500 each.

Both CES and Re/Code events come at a time when Chinese tech firms are looking to expand into overseas markets and promote their products on the world stage. For example Xiaomi, China's leading domestic smartphone manufacturer, has been aggressively expanding into India in recent months.

The Chinese government is also keen to promote the country's image as a home of innovative technology and companies. This month, Premier Li Keqiang revealed his so-called "Internet Plus" strategy to encourage traditional manufacturers to team up with internet firms to develop new products and services in the hopes that China can go from being the world's workshop to a high-tech innovator.

China has a mixed reputation globally when it comes to technology and innovation, with many popular services such as Twitter and Facebook barred from the country, while Sony and Microsoft's gaming consoles were only recently approved for sale in the country.

Whatever the difficulties of doing business in the world's largest economy, tech firms cannot ignore China's massive market. Both Microsoft and Apple have come under regulatory trouble in recent years but remain highly active in the country as Chinese consumers form an ever-larger share of their global sales.