A cheat sheet to tech-related developments at China's legislature meeting

Technology entrepreneurs have a stronger presence in China’s political scene like never before, underscoring the ambition of the world’s second-largest economy to gain an edge in every hi-tech field from artificial intelligence and autonomous driving to cybersecurity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 8:22pm

The heads of China’s major hi-tech companies joined thousands of delegates and deputies at the annual parliamentary sessions and meetings of the top political advisory body in Beijing this week, as they shared proposals that would buttress efforts by president Xi Jinping to make the country’s rapid technological development a national priority.

Pony Ma Huateng of Tencent Holdings, Baidu’s Robin Li Yanhong, Lei Jun of Xiaomi and JD.com’s Richard Liu Qiangdong were among the prominent executives to represent the nation’s technology industry in the meetings this year.

In his work report to the National People’s Congress on Monday, Premier Li Keqiang outlined initiatives that the government will undertake to strengthen the country’s technological prowess, including offering tax incentives for venture-capital investments and stepping up the recruitment of overseas talent involved in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.

Here is a look at who said what about technology in the annual gathering known as the Two Sessions.

Government officials

1. Premier Li Keqiang

What:

  • Aimed to extend preferential tax policies for venture capital and angel investments.
  • Encouraged overseas Chinese students to return to China after their studies to pursue “innovative” business ventures.
  • Suggested efforts to speed up the recruitment of highly skilled talent to China.
  • Cut rates for mobile internet services by at least 30 per cent.
  • Pushed for ubiquitous high-speed broadband internet services in urban and rural areas.

Why:

China wants to surpass the United States in advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics. That will require not only plenty of investments, but more specialists in those fields to work in China. The government also wants the country’s vast rural population as well as sectors like health care and education to be fully connected to the internet, which would help raise the nation’s overall efficiency.

2. Li Xiaopeng, Minister of Transport

What:

  • Sought to establish more regulation in China’s bike-sharing industry.
  • Proposed to resolve problems in the bike-sharing market, including haphazard parking and difficulty in retrieving initial deposits paid to bike-sharing companies.

Why:

China’s bike-sharing boom saw more than 40 companies competing in the market within the space of a year. Smaller players, however, were later forced to close operations, weighed down by the high cost of subsidies to attract users. As a result, thousands of users were left out of pocket and unable to retrieve their deposits, which ranged from 100 yuan to 300 yuan.

3. Miao Wei, Minister of Industry and Information Technology

What:

  • Detailed how China’s development of new energy vehicles was on par with international standards as domestic demand led the world in the past three years, with more than 1.8 million NEVs sold.
  • Revealed how China, which has yet to adequately grasp the core technologies behind NEVs, faces issues like inadequate use of preferential policies and protectionism.
  • Announced the ministry’s plan to tackle those issues through stronger coordination and policy convergence.

Why:

Already the world’s largest market for electric vehicles, China also wants to take the lead in NEV technology development and manufacturing. The growing adoption of NEVs nationwide is expected to help China curb pollution and reduce its reliance on oil imports.

China’s technology chieftains

4. Pony Ma Huateng, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Tencent Holdings

What:

  • Pushed for electronic identification to facilitate mobile payments for residents across the “Greater Bay Area”, a Chinese government initiative to link the economies of Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province.
  • Proposed digital video game contracts that will enable parents to negotiate reasonable times for their children to play games.

Why:

Tencent, the world’s largest video game company, generates the bulk of revenue from its desktop and smartphone gaming business. Following criticism from state media and a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference delegate that video games are the “new opium”, Tencent is looking to swiftly take action and assuage the public’s concern. Otherwise, a government crackdown on the gaming sector could adversely impact the company.

5. Robin Li Yanhong, Baidu co-founder, chairman and chief executive

What:

  • Proposed lower taxes in the Xiongan New Area, located in the northern province of Hebei, to attract more local and overseas talent.
  • Called on the government to provide incentives to support China’s artificial intelligence industry.
  • Encouraged companies to open up their AI platforms to promote greater innovation.
  • Suggested the government allow more cities nationwide to conduct self-driving car trials.

Why:

Baidu signed in December a strategic collaboration agreement with the Xiongan New Area to help its development into a smart city, with autonomous transport, conversational AI and cloud computing capabilities. To achieve that, the company will require more testing grounds to speed up development of its self-driving technology and more skilled recruits to support its AI initiatives.

6. Lei Jun, Xiaomi founder, chairman and chief executive

What:

  • Proposed the appointment of “Made in China brand ambassadors” to help mainland companies go international and promote cultural exchanges with countries taking part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Pushed for creating an integrated digital services platform to support companies expanding abroad under that initiative, which covers more than 68 countries.
  • Drew up plans for Xiaomi to enter the US market at the end of this year or in early 2019.
  • Aimed to get Xiaomi back as China’s No 1 smartphone brand within 10 quarters.

Why:

Xiaomi, which is one of the world’s most recognisable Chinese smartphone brands like telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies, is widely speculated to be gearing up for a public listing sometime this year. Xiaomi’s efforts to become a global brand has been driven by its aggressive expansion into Southeast Asia, South America and Europe.

7. Richard Liu Qiangdong, JD.com founder, chairman and chief executive

What:

  • Aimed to help rural farmers transform their businesses through e-commerce.
  • Called for more support to drive large-scale production of agricultural products in rural areas.
  • Planned to improve logistics infrastructure to help merchants in rural areas sell their products.
  • Encouraged more consumers to buy products from rural merchants.

Why:

JD.com has been expanding its operations in China’s rural areas, which represents the next growth engine for e-commerce services providers in the country potential as growth in consumption slows in the urban areas. JD.com’s plan to support e-commerce activities by merchants in rural areas opens up opportunities for the company to tap into the spending power of consumers in the countryside.

8. Liu Qingfeng, iFlyTek founder, chairman and president

What:

  • Proposed setting up a national-level research programme that integrates deep learning technology, neural networks, and mathematical and statistical modelling.
  • Called for an “innovation system” that will focus on increased cooperation between industries, universities and research institutes.
  • Suggested the application of AI technology in health care, especially in rural areas where such an innovation could help solve scarce medical care in the countryside.
  • Pushed for stronger data security, particularly of personal information.

Why:

As part of China’s designated “national team” for AI, iFlyTek is building more sophisticated AI systems for use across industries such as education and health care. The company believes stronger collaboration between academic institutions, research centres and commercial enterprises would help accelerate AI development and adoption across China.

9. Wang Xiaochuan, founder and chief executive of Sogou

What:

  • Called for medical reform in China to be supported by advances in internet technology.
  • Predicted that families will have increased digital access to doctors within five to 10 years.

Why:

Sogou, China’s No 2 online search services provider, expected medical reform’s integration with advances in internet technology can help ease the uneven distribution of health care resources in China. That would help people in lower-tier cities and the countryside to gain access to doctors in the big cities. The company operates its eponymous Sogou Doctor search engine, which aims to provide accurate medical information to users amid concerns about false and misleading claims for medical treatments on other Chinese online search services.

10. Zhou Hongyi, Qihoo 360 founder, chairman and chief executive

What:

  • Proposed the training and development of more network security professionals in China.
  • Suggested establishing cybersecurity education institutions because existing universities lack cybersecurity courses.
  • Called on the government and private sector to report cybersecurity breaches in a timely manner.

Why:

China lacks highly skilled professionals in cybersecurity, which weakens the country’s efforts in that field. Timely reporting of network breaches by companies and the government can help security companies like Qihoo 360 to quickly respond to threats and bolster data protection.

11. William Ding Lei, NetEase founder and chief executive

What:

  • Suggested that gaming addiction may have grown because more adults today are constantly on their mobile devices, a behaviour that children have learned and copied.
  • Proposed building of online education platforms to share lessons as well as science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics courses.

Why:

As China’s second-largest video game developer and operator, NetEase could see its business being negatively affected by the government’s increased concerns over gaming addiction.