The World Internet Conference in Wuzhen has long been derived as part of China’s propaganda tool. But those days are over, writes William Bao Bean, managing director of the Chinaccelerator, who attended the conference last month, together with IT leaders from the US and China, he writes in Medium. “It is going to be a wild ride.”
William Bao Bean:
While three of the top 20 political leaders in China attended the event, along with the Deputy Prime Ministers of Thailand and Mongolia, the more important part of the WIC’s guest list was its heavily curated group of global internet power elite, who gathered for open- and closed-door sessions over two days in a meticulously restored river village and adjoining conference facility built solely for the event. While Pony Ma and Jack Ma don’t hang out together like they used to, all the major players were in the house, and talking business.
The main stage presentations were each about five minutes long, and there was nothing subtle about the order of company presentations — size matters, and the largest go first. Presentations focused not on new product announcements, but on market power and technology advantage. How many users. How much data. How many AI researchers. What can we do that you can’t.
Like schoolyard rivals, each company strutted their stuff and radiated an unspoken challenge to the rest. The ARkit technology, to give one example, makes Apple the largest Augmented Reality platform in the world, because they make their existing iPhones and iPads AR-capable through software — and they don’t want you to forget it…
First it was copy to China. Then China innovation. Now even a company as big as Facebook is cribbing their Messenger product roadmap from Tencent’s WeChat.
In 2015, the US saw about US$72bn in venture investing, versus US$12.5bn for Europe combined. China was at roughly US$60bn. In the two years since, local Chinese governments have reportedly poured another US$250–350bn into Chinese venture capital firms.
At the conference, I learned that there are now 60,000 VC firms in the country, as well as 130,000 startups resident in some 3,200 incubators. There isn’t enough market in China to support this many companies at this level of investment, so China is going global. When you go from 50% market share to 15% in five quarters, as Indian handset brands just did, you will know what that means. Buckle up — its’ going to be a wild ride!
Are you looking for more innovation experts at the China Speakers Bureau? Do check this list.