Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)
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Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference chairman and Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang appears on a screen to deliver a closing speech at a meeting on March 13, 2019. Photo: AP

China’s top political advisory body hosts special symposium to help digital economy in sign of easing crackdown

  • The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference is holding a special symposium to promote the digital economy after months of crackdowns on Big Tech
  • Chinese tech stocks were up in Hong Kong on Tuesday amid hopes of easing regulatory pressure on the tech sector

Top Chinese communist party officials, including vice premier Liu He and No 4 party ranking member Wang Yang, met Big Tech leaders on Tuesday to encourage them to play a constructive role in the national economy, sending a signal of support to the Chinese tech sector after 18 months of regulatory crackdowns.

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country’s top political advisory body, held a special symposium on Tuesday to promote the digital economy, confirming earlier reports by the South China Morning Post that Beijing wants to give the tech sector a lift as economic growth falters amid Covid-19 lockdowns.

Liu said the government will support the healthy development of the platform economy and private firms, while supporting digital enterprises in going public on domestic and overseas capital markets, according to Chinese state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

Wang said the government will strengthen confidence in the sector, taking into account industry development needs and security, and will boost the development of the digital economy.

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Baidu chairman Robin Li and Qihoo 360 CEO Zhou Hongyi, along with around 100 other members of the CPPCC, attended the meeting on Tuesday, video footage from CCTV showed.

“We need to give full play to the advantages of the our national system and large market size, strengthen key and core technology development and research, and firmly grasp the autonomy of the development of the digital economy,” CCTV’s evening news reported on Tuesday, citing CPPCC members.

The “special consultation session” was to help the “sustainable and healthy” growth of the digital economy, according to a front-page article from the conference’s official newspaper CPPCC Daily, published on Tuesday morning.

While there were few details of the plan in the article, titled “Firmly seizing the spring of digital economic development”, the high-profile meeting is fresh evidence that Beijing is paring back the flurry of regulatory activity that has left China’s technology sector reeling, as it works out a specific plan to support tech companies’ role in future economic development.

The article did not name any Big Tech firms.

Hopes are high that Beijing will ease its control of the digital economy after an 18-month crackdown amid a slowing economy. The Politburo meeting at the end of April revealed positive signs for internet companies, as officials voiced support for measures assisting the “healthy development” of the platform economy.

The recent signals are good for both capital markets and technology platforms, according to Zhang Yi, chief analyst with Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research.

“It’s beneficial for the transformation and upgrade of China’s economy. Traditional industries will be on the track of digitalisation with the help of 5G, as part of the digital economy,” Zhang said.

China to end tech clampdown as economy slows: sources

Chinese tech stocks in Hong Kong shot up on Tuesday, with Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the Post, rising 7 per cent, and Tencent Holdings gaining 5.3 per cent. The share price of Meituan rose 6.2 per cent while JD gained 7.4 per cent.

According to the CPPCC Daily article, a team led by Gao Yunlong, vice-chairman of the CPPCC, conducted research via video conference and on-the-ground meetings in eastern Zhejiang province and Beijing to prepare for the meeting. Other Chinese tech bosses who are also CPPCC members include NetEase founder William Ding Lei and Xiaomi founder Lei Jun.

The digital economy, by China’s definition, is broader than just internet platforms, but those platforms are treated as key parts of it. Industry digitalisation will help the real economy grow, the CPPCC Daily article said.

New measures will allow Big Tech firms to play a role in upgrading China’s manufacturing, promoting the digitalisation of agriculture, and stimulating consumer spending, according to a front-page editorial in state-run Communist Party newspaper Economic Daily earlier this month.