China’s tech billionaires donate to universities amid calls to prioritise innovation 

Baidu and made sizeable donations to Peking University and Tsinghua University, respectively, as President Xi Jinping reiterates calls for companies to step up innovation.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 11:55am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 11:06pm

The CEOs at Baidu and and their spouses pledged millions to China’s two top universities amid calls by President Xi Jinping for the country’s businesses to pick up the pace in mastering core technologies to drive development.

Baidu CEO Robin Li Yanhong, his wife Melissa Ma and the company jointly donated 660 million yuan (US$104 million) to Peking University to commemorate the institution’s 120th anniversary, according to a statement.

The donation will set up a Peking University Baidu Fund and support cutting-edge research into areas that complement the company’s artificial intelligence technologies, such as information management, medicine, economics, communications and sociology.

JD CEO Richard Liu Qiangdong and his wife Zhang Zetian gave 200 million yuan to Tsinghua University for research into AI, logistics and other uses, according to a statement. 

Chinese universities lagging in race for donations

The pledges by two of the country’s leading technology companies took place as President Xi Jinping reiterated his call for companies to speed up the gaining of key technologies amid rising trade tensions with the US.

“Businesses must unceasingly make breakthroughs in core technology, mastering more key technologies with self-owned intellectual property rights and building up the ability to dominate industrial development. The country needs you to pick up the pace,” Xi said during an inspection tour of chip makers in Wuhan, Hubei province last week. 

Likening chips to the human heart, Xi said “no matter how big a person is, he or she can never be strong without a sound and strong heart”, according to Xinhua.

The comments come after ZTE Corp, China’s biggest publicly traded telecommunications equipment maker, was banned for seven years by the US government from buying components from American companies, a move that the Shenzhen-based company said has sent it into a “state of shock”. The move shone a light on China’s dependence on imported technologies and called into question the viability of its stated intention to become a technology power. 

Huawei has been building its substitute to Android for a rainy day.

Baidu’s Li graduated from Peking University’s Department of Information Management in 1991. Liu’s wife Zhang Zetian was a Tsinghua alumnus. Liu himself graduated from Renmin University, to which he donated 300 million yuan last June in celebration of its 80th anniversary. 

Chinese tycoons have been criticised by internet users in the past for donating to foreign universities, accusing them of not supporting local institutions of higher learning.