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Big tech: Why the West must look to China by Duncan Clark

Categories: China

Related sectors

Manchester China Forum

Manchester China Forum recently hosted the first of their 5th Anniversary Series, Why the West must look to China - Big Tech.

This event was kindly sponsored by the global software design firm ThoughtWorks and Addleshaw Goddard. The evening featured a talk from Alibaba's early entrepreneurial consultant Duncan Clark, author of Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built who gave an overview of the recent development of Chinese technology and its impact on global technological development. The event attracted over 90 attendees from a variety of businesses, universities, and organisations keen on increasing their knowledge of a huge potential market.

The birth of mobile internet is a revolution that has swept the world, with phones and tablets completely changing life style habits and creating new markets and leading to new streams of global economic growth. In 2018 this is seen nowhere more clearly than in China.  The rapid rise of Chinese Internet companies has transformed lives, created an emerging start up ecosystem and put China on the world stage as a leader in innovation.  

Duncan Clark is an expert in Chinese technology, and is a regular columnist for Forbes magazine, specialising in commenting on the rapidly changing Chinese science and technology community. In 1994, he seized the opportunity to move to Beijing where he founded an investment advisory company, Bodak Consulting Co. Ltd. (BDA) whom provide professional consulting services to investors, specialising in China's technology and consumer sectors. When Duncan moved to China in 1994 there were only 200,000 mobile phones in China. Who would have ever thought the Chinese mobile internet market would become so magnificent 24 years on and have such influence over China and the world’s economy?

Over the last 24 years, China’s internet technology has developed at such speed that it is widely said China has ‘leap-fogged’ ahead in some aspects of innovative tech development. This leap-frogging phenomenon can be attributed to China’s growing middle class and a consumer driven tech industry. 20 years ago purchasing a product from a department store meant going to at least 2 different counters before leaving with your shopping. In 2018, via a ‘super app’ you can order a takeaway on WeChat, pay by WeChat pay and be tucking in to your dinner within 20 minutes. The rise and rapid development of app payments in China has transformed the consumer tech industry.

WeChat as a ‘super app’ is the perfect example of how China has leap frogged ahead of the West. Whilst Western social media platforms are currently facing increased criticism due to data privacy, fake news and an overwhelming amount of advertisements, WeChat have created a very unique model that offers a social media experience with the user’s need right at the centre. Tencent instead profits from WeChat through functions and services that WeChat hosts, such as WePay and other services under the Tencent brand.

WeChat as a means of engaging with the Chinese consumer is not to be ignored. Uber recently learnt the hard way and was pushed out of China due to the success of Didi (China’s equivalent). By not failing to integrate Uber in to WeChat unlike their competitor they lost a significant market share and were eventually bought out. Didi has since expanded in to Southeast Asia through the acquisition of Grab, Brazil through the acquisition of 99 and recently expanded to Mexico.

Chinese companies going global is only the first wave of what will become common place overseas. Chinese companies that were once not known outside of the Mainland such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are soon to become internationally recognised house hold brands. Since the establishment of Tencent and Alibaba, cities not commonly known in the West such as Shenzhen and Hangzhou have grown on an unimaginable scale. Shenzhen, for example, has gained a reputation as a hi-tech hub, and has seen an astonishing GDP growth of 8.8% year by year. China is on the rise and the West needs to take notice.

Watch an exclusive interview with Duncan and see China  and the incredible rise of Chinese tech for yourself!

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