Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings expects the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, which has seen millions turn to online working and schooling, to have a lasting impact and accelerate China’s digital infrastructure plans. “The disease first cultivated the online habits of users – such as online channels for teaching, learning and receiving medical advice … and secondly it has also seen demand from [traditional industries] rise for internet applications,” said Tong Taosang, senior executive vice-president at Tencent, in remarks at the Global Mobile internet Conference live-streamed on Thursday. “Tencent will do its duty of being a digital assistant and exploring the value of digital infrastructures in different industries,” added Tong. He saw three key developments as a response to the coronavirus crisis: broader all-round acceptance of online services, more demand for internet services from traditional industries and increased connectivity between different types of industries. The buildout of digital infrastructure in China involves everything from new high-speed railway lines to smart traffic management systems, all of which will be underpinned by next generation mobile networks that enable faster data transmission speeds and greater connectivity. China has already pledged billions of yuan in investments towards building 5G network and data centers. China must accelerate the construction of “new digital infrastructures such as 5G networks and data centres” on top of speeding up “key projects and major infrastructure construction already included in state plans”, such as additional high-speed railway lines, Chinese President Xi Jinping told last Wednesday’s meeting of China’s top policymaking panel, the Politburo Standing Committee, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency. Tech giants vie for attention of young Chinese on video platform Bilibili The comments confirm that investments will proceed apace in new technologies, echoing parts of the “Made in China 2025” industrial policy plan that was downgraded last year after sharp criticism from the United States and European Union. “The central government proposed to speed up the construction of new digital infrastructure recently,” said Tong, who is leading Tencent’s strategy to use its expertise with consumers in the business space. “The industrial internet applications used during the coronavirus outbreak are an example [of this acceleration].” Big data and AI have played a big role in China’s tech-driven response to the coronavirus outbreak, with companies racing to find ways to better diagnose the disease and find treatments. Last month, Tencent teamed with top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan to jointly set up a big data and artificial intelligence lab to combat the novel coronavirus and help prevent future epidemics. Mobile platforms WeChat, operated by Tencent, and Alipay, run by Ant Financial, both released features in collaboration with the government that assigned coloured QR codes to people to indicate their disease risk level, in order to halt the spread of the disease. Tencent and Alibaba Group Holding, owners of the South China Morning Post, are also offering AI-backed services to help analyse the computerised axial tomography (CAT) scans used by hospitals to diagnose patients suspected to have the coronavirus. The service shortens the CAT analysis to seconds from the previous 5 to 15 minutes. “The war on the virus has provided a new start for digital infrastructure development … 5G, the cloud, big data and artificial intelligence applications will create more space for industries to upgrade and build new business models,” said Tong. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.