China has new US$1.4 trillion plan to seize the world’s tech crown from the US

The tech investment push is part of a fiscal package waiting to be signed off by the National People’s Congress US$1.4 trillion plan to seize the world’s tech crown, which convenes this weekThis initiative will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the ‘Made in China 2025’ programme

Beijing is accelerating its bid for global leadership in key technologies, planning to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy through the roll-out of everything from next-generation wireless networks to artificial intelligence (AI).In the master plan backed by President Xi Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated 10 trillion yuan (US$1.4 trillion) over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private hi-tech giants like Huawei Technologies to help lay 5G wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance.The new infrastructure initiative is expected to drive mainly local giants, from Alibaba Group Holding and Huawei to SenseTime Group at the expense of US companies.As tech nationalism mounts, the investment drive will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the “Made in China 2025” programme. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.

“Nothing like this has happened before, this is China’s gambit to win the global tech race,” said Digital China Holdings chief operating officer Maria Kwok, as she sat in a Hong Kong office surrounded by facial recognition cameras and sensors. “Starting this year, we are really beginning to see the money flow through.”The tech investment push is part of a fiscal package waiting to be signed off by China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, which convenes this week. The government is expected to announce infrastructure funding of as much as US$563 billion this year, against the backdrop of the country’s worst economic performance since the Mao era.

The nation’s biggest purveyors of cloud computing and data analysis Alibaba, the parent company of the South China Morning Post, and Tencent Holdings will be linchpins of the upcoming endeavour. China has already entrusted Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, to help galvanise 5G. Tech leaders including Pony Ma Huateng and Jack Ma are espousing the programme.INSIDE CHINA TECH NEWSLETTERGet updates direct to your inboxSUBSCRIBEBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Maria Kwok’s company is a government-backed information technology systems integration provider, among many that are jumping at the chance. In the southern city of Guangzhou, Digital China is bringing half a million units of project housing online, including a complex three quarters the size of Central Park in New York City. To find a home, a user just has to log on to an app, scan their face and verify their identity. Leases can be signed digitally via smartphone and the renting authority is automatically flagged if a tenant’s payment is late.

China is no stranger to far-reaching plans with massive price tags that appear to achieve little. There is no guarantee this programme will deliver the economic rejuvenation its proponents promise. Unlike previous efforts to resuscitate the economy with “dumb” bridges and highways, this newly laid digital infrastructure will help national champions develop cutting-edge technologies.“China’s new stimulus plan will likely lead to a consolidation of industrial internet providers, and could lead to the emergence of some larger companies able to compete with global leaders, such as GE and Siemens,” said Nannan Kou world’s tech crown, head of research at BloombergNEF, in a report. “One bet is on industrial internet-of-things (IoT) platforms, as China aims to cultivate three world leading companies in this area by 2025.”

China is not alone in pumping money into the technology sector as a way to get out of the post-coronavirus economic slump. Earlier this month, South Korea said AI and wireless communications would be at the core of it its “New Deal” to create jobs and boost growth.

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