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China technology

Tencent CEO Pony Ma says China risks falling behind without strong base in scientific research

The boss of tech giant Tencent has warned China risks losing out to other countries if it does not invest in key research fields of microchips, operating systems, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 11:34pm

The boss of tech giant Tencent has warned China risks losing out to other countries if it does not invest in key research fields of microchips, operating systems, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Pony Ma Huateng, chairman and chief executive of Tencent Holdings, spoke out at the Big Data Expo in Guiyang where he emphasised the importance of basic scientific research in these core technologies.

“We are not weak in AI, but when it comes to quantum computing, will we be able to grab the opportunity?” Ma said on Monday in the capital of southwestern Guizhou province where Tencent stores much of its data on servers located in underground mountain sites.

“Foreign countries will achieve leading positions if they make breakthroughs in quantum computing … Then it will be big challenge for China [to catch up],” he said, adding that Tencent will devote practical efforts to the challenge, “not just theories”.

Ma’s call for more research comes after Tencent was criticised earlier this month for driving growth through investments rather than original innovation.

US tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft and Intel are racing to develop quantum computers, which will make current computers obsolete, while the Chinese government is investing US$10 billion in a new national laboratory for quantum research, which is due to open in 2020.

On Monday Ma stressed that China should pay more attention to core scientific research and not only the quick development of applications.

“China has led the world in some areas such as mobile payments and 3G/4G network building,” he added. “However, we should also look backward to see whether the foundation [of basic scientific research] is solid or not.”

On the weekend, Ma said Tencent would consider investing in the research and development of computer chips and that the goal of Chinese made chips is essential to avoid the country being in the situation of others always having a “grip on its throat”.

This is not the first time a Chinese technology leader has spoken out about the need for greater expertise and self-reliance in the chip industry.

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holdings, said last month he was motivated by a desire to make chips “inclusive” – cheap, efficient and available to all. He said Alibaba, which is the parent company of the South China Morning Post, had invested in five semiconductor firms in the past four years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a national conference on network security and information last month that core technology was an important tool for the nation.