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December 27, 2017

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Building a digital engine for China’s growth

A booming digital economy is reshap­ing China's economic landscape as the spread of technology such as big data and AIrevives traditional industries and casts new light on high-quality development.

The country's digital economy amount­ed to 22.58 trillion yuan (US$3.43 trillion) last year, ranking second globally and accounting for around 30 percent of na­tional GDP. Its near-20-percent growth substantially outpaced the overall econ­omy, which grew 6.7 percent in 2016.

The trend is likely to continue in the future and is expected to hit US$16 tril­lion by 2035.

"The digital economy has become a core engine powering China's economic growth," said Pony Ma, founder of Inter­net giant Tencent.

Tencent has plowed big money into forging competitiveness in fintech and big data, and recorded strong growth in games, digital content, online advertis­ing and payments in the third quarter.

"China is already more digitized than many observers appreciate and has the potential to set the world's digital fron­tier in coming decades," the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) said in a report.

As of June, there were 3.89 billion In­ternet users around the world, of which 751 million were in China. The enormous number of web users has created room for risk takers in e-commerce, mobile payments and other emerging areas to stretch their wings.

With leading online retailers Alibaba and, China is the world's larg­est e-commerce market, accounting for more than 40 percent of the value of worldwide transactions, up from less than 1 percent a decade ago. In terms of mobile payments, China has a transac­tion value 11 times that of the United States.

"The digital economy is making great­er contribution to the national economy and rising as a fresh driver of economic transformation and upgrades," said Lin Xiunian, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner.

As China's policy-makers pledged to steer the economy onto a new path featuring high-quality rather than high-speed growth, at the recent three-day Central Economic Work Conference, digital technology will give a push to the shift, revitalizing sluggish sectors and creating new growth points.

"China will briskly foster new growth drivers, improve technological innova­tion, push for upgrades of traditional sectors, and foster innovative, leading businesses," according to a statement of the key meeting.

The government has rolled out an array of policies such as "Made in China 2025" and "Internet Plus" strategies to spur the integration of Internet technolo­gies and manufacturing, as well as other traditional sectors.

"After the process of digitization, busi­nesses will see a 30-percent increase in production efficiency on average and a 20-percent drop in operation costs," the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said.

Wu Hequan, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said big data technology would redefine a series of sectors including finance, med­ical care, manufacturing, logistics and transportation, and prompt automobile, education and tourism to form new busi­ness models.

The food delivery unit of Meituan Dianping, China's largest group deals site, hires around 500,000 couriers, 31 percent of which come from declining traditional industries and 10 percent from poor areas.

"Our services create employment and value, and represent the future of the economy," said Wang Xing, chief execu­tive of Meituan Dianping.

Innovators on the rise

The digital economy is backed by nu­merous homegrown Chinese tech firms developing from followers to leaders in the international tech community.

"China's three Internet giants are building a rich digital ecosystem that is now spreading beyond them. Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and others are driving technical performance such as comput­ing efficiency to set new world-class standards," the MGIsaid.

Investment has also poured in. The MGIsaid China was in the top three in the world for venture-capital investment in key types of digital technology, includ­ing autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, robotics, drones and AI.

One in three of the world's 262 uni­corns, startups valued at more than US$1 billion, is Chinese, commanding 43 percent of the global value of these companies.

The government has promised tax breaks, financing support and other favorable policies to help innovative firms sprout and grow, and expects to see more domestic players able to take on international rivals.

"China is already a global digital econ­omy, and it is going to have a greater impact on the global digital world," said Jonathan Woetzel, senior partner at Mckinsey.


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