A group of technology companies in Guangzhou , capital of southern Guangdong province, has formed a new industry association focused on metaverse -related developments, as the frenzy continues over what some consider the next stage of the internet weeks after the concept emerged as an unlikely topic in China’s “two sessions” . Five tech companies in Guangzhou – including GrowthEase, a business technology services provider under video gaming giant NetEase , and browser game publisher 37Games – on Friday established the Guangzhou Metaverse Innovation Association in the city’s tech-centric Nansha district, according to a report by the Nanfang Daily , the official newspaper of the Guangdong provincial committee of China’s Communist Party . That alliance aims to serve as Guangzhou’s first salvo in the race to build China’s metaverse ecosystem, while enabling the southern city to accelerate development of its digital economy, according to the report. The metaverse refers to an immersive virtual world, where digital representations of people can interact with each other like they do in real life. Nansha , one of 11 districts in Guangzhou, is home to the biggest of the three pilot free trade zones in the Greater Bay Area . There are more than 300 artificial intelligence -related companies in the district, 10 of which are either listed on the mainland or in Hong Kong, according to official data. The Guangzhou Metaverse Innovation Association sets an example on how private enterprises and local governments can collaborate in emerging technologies, according to Wang Guilin, director of the city’s Science and Technology Bureau. Following its establishment, the association now counts 23 Guangzhou-based tech companies and research institutions, as well as Chinese AI speech recognition tech giant iFlyTek , which is based in Hefei in eastern Anhui province. Founding member 37Games and GrowthEase parent NetEase did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday. GrowthEase provides streaming technology support for the avatar-based concerts and conferences hosted on NetEase’s virtual events platform Yaotai, which presented the Hong Kong stock exchange listing ceremony of music streaming unit NetEase Cloud Village last November. Shenzhen-listed 37Games plans to “keep exploring the metaverse-related businesses” and “continue to accumulate key technologies” in 2022, according to co-founder and president Li Yifei during the company’s annual meeting in January. ‘Two sessions’ delegates want China’s government to develop the metaverse The new metaverse alliance in Guangzhou reflects how the concept has become increasingly popular with Chinese technology companies and a growing number of investors. This enthusiasm is reflected in various enterprises that have linked their businesses to the concept, while books about the metaverse have become bestsellers. At the recent “two sessions”, the country’s largest annual gathering of lawmakers and top political consultants, a number of delegates published proposals on how China should embrace and regulate the metaverse. The number of metaverse-related trademark applications in China already reached 16,000 in the first two months of the year, double the number recorded the previous two months. Luxury and consumer brands rush into the metaverse for their pots of gold Still, the enthusiasm for the metaverse contrasts with recent warnings about the potential risks in this new field. In February, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission warned the public to stay alert to illegal fundraising schemes and scams related to the metaverse . Before Guangzhou’s initiative, top-tier Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen already made the metaverse part of their development plans. Other provincial capitals, such as Wuhan in central Hubei province and Hefei, have also made commitments to metaverse development.