Behind the scenes at CES Asia in Shanghai, complaints about Chinese copycats
While the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia, taking place in Shanghai this week, has been as jargon-filled as any technology event: B2B, B2C, O2O, etc. But one acronym is only mentioned in private conversations: C2C.
C2C or 'Copy2China' is the practice of copying everything new and popular in the West in the Chinese market. Examples abound in both hardware and internet services, thanks in part to Beijing's tight control of the domestic internet market and policy.
Xiaomi, the country's leading domestic smartphone brand, is often called the 'Apple of China' for its cut-price devices' resemblance to the California-based tech giant's products. With leading global social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter having been banned in China for more than five years, locals use similar services offered by Chinese internet giants such as Sina, best known for its Chinese-language micro-blogging service Weibo.
As CES Asia kicked off on Monday, I walked around the two big exhibition halls and easily found quite a number of so-called “new and innovative” products that are made in China but are remarkably similar in terms of function and design to popular devices developed by Western technology firms. "This looks so familiar" is the common refrain when visitors spot something they feel is a copycat of a foreign product.
For example, I found a tablet looks almost identical to Apple’s iPad, down to the packaging, which is a spitting image of an iPad box.
Another Chinese company had brought a wearable device to CES Asia which looked incredibly similar to Google Glass. I asked a salesman about the resemblance and he said: "Google can do theirs and we do our own. It doesn't matter."
Some attendees thought otherwise. During my short visit to the booth, I heard several people excitedly point out "Google Glass" to their friends, only to have confusing conversations with the sales staff when they asked to try on the eyeglasses that display information on a small screen by your eye.
Other C2C cases included a number of action cameras that look just like GoPros (but much cheaper). Earlier this year, Xiaomi launched a competitor to GoPro called the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera, retailing for around half the price of the global market leader's products.
On the grand stage of CES Asia, senior industry executives from homegrown mainland technology firms including JD.com, known as the “Amazon of China”, and China Mobile, one of the Big Three state-owned mobile network operators, as well as multinational corporations like IBM and Intel, all spoke highly of great and fast-growing potential for Chinese technology and internet business. Few of them wanted to touch on the “C2C phenomenon”, widely considered a politically sensitive topic that would most likely embarrass local industry executives and the Chinese government as well.
Premier Li Keqiang has recently promoted his vision for the next chapter of the “Made in China” story, which for the last three decades has mainly focused on cheap labour costs and quick production times. But Chinese labour is no longer as cheap as it used to be, especially in comparison with emerging manufacturing hubs such as Vietnam and India. Li’s vision for the new “Made in China 2025” strategy will be largely driven by innovation in the hope that Beijing can transform its economy into a more knowledge-powered economy, instead of being just the “world's factory”.
For Li, C2C will not be the solution for “Made in China 2025” or the premier’s other initiatives including the red-hot “Internet Plus” strategy widely talked up at CES Asia. C2C may help Chinese start-ups make quick money but it won’t do good for the image of China Inc in the long run and no country can go far with a purely imitative mindset.
(For more CES Asia 2015 stories, read here)
George Chen is managing editor of SCMP.com International Edition. For more Mr Shangkong columns: facebook.com/mrshangkong or follow @george_chen on Twitter