NetEase is the Chinese internet pioneer you have probably never heard of. Founded in 1997, before its bigger and better-known Chinese internet peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (collectively known as BAT), it is largely unknown outside of China. NetEase is currently making big pushes into many new businesses: e-commerce, online learning, music streaming and a host of other businesses, but it still has a long way to go to climb back to the top of the China tech tree. Analysts note that NetEase lacks the breadth of its rivals’ businesses, and that will likely stymie its growth, unless it can continue to diversify successfully.
Back in 2014, Stephen Hawking warned that people should be careful about artificial intelligence (AI)—the full development of it could spell the end of the human race, he said. Bradley Nelson, professor of robotics and intelligent systems at ETH Zürich, is optimistic about the technology’s development. To him, machines and robotics are augmenting instead of replacing the human workforce. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, Nelson talks about the state of AI so far, China’s advantages in this industry and, as an engineer, his insights into the relation between humans and machines.
China’s business world is littered with rags-to-riches entrepreneurs—Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, was an English teacher before starting Alibaba. Not all such magnates are equal, however, and joining Ma in the upper echelons of China’s rich list was Wang Wei, chairman of delivery and logistics company SF Express, who initially started out by lugging packages between Hong Kong and mainland China, operating in a legal gray zone as he did so. But now SF Express has grown to become the most successful logistics company in China. Listed in Shenzhen Stock Exchange in early 2017, the company has many competitive advantages over its counterparts.
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is “a fusion of technologies” that blurs the lines “between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. This fusion of so many fields will ultimately see 4IR change the world far more fundamentally than the first three industrial revolutions. Any analysis of the many technological breakthroughs that now define this new 4IR business world is incomplete at best if it misses the China factor. At the dawn of the 4IR era, China is much better positioned than in the past to seize the opportunities offered by an industrial transformation.
A look at the China data you should care about–from China’s investment in an electric car factory in Germany to the 25,000 tons of avocado imports from Latin America. Plus, a look at China’s first homemade passenger jet, the C919, which took its maiden flight in May and seeks to compete with Boeing and Airbus; and technology giant Tencent’s USD 316 billion market cap, which makes it the ninth-largest listed company globally. More international trades are set to grow in the future: One Belt and Road Forum China signed more than 270 agreements with 68 countries and international organizations as China pushes its Silk Road revival.
At the enormous Pacific Department Store on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road, barriers block the street entrances and windows are shuttered. The store, which was one of the largest on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets for nearly two decades, closed in January. The shell of the store now sits incongruously opposite the K11 mall, which has been thriving ever since implementing a smart re-think of the shopping mall concept a couple of years ago. The lesson of the different fates of these two shopping centers is clear—adapt or die. Retail is not declining in China, it’s just changing.
Under the banner industrial policy “Made in China 2025”, China seeks to replace the advanced foreign manufactured goods that it has long relied upon with domestically-produced goods. But the effort is spooking the foreign business community, and the plan may not address China’s most genuine needs. Precise details of the implementation of the grand policy are only now beginning to emerge. For Chinese companies, the real long-term impact of the plan is at best unclear. But for foreign companies, although there will be business opportunities in the short-term, the plan as a whole presents big challenges to their future in China.
Foreign Direct Investment has been an incredibly important catalyst for China’s economic development, bringing in the capital, technology and know-how that made China the world’s factory. But China is no longer so fresh and attractive to foreign investors as return on assets is falling. FDI to China increased 3.9% on the year to RMB 731.8 billion in the first 11 months of 2016—the 2015 expansion was 5.6%. Besides, increasing labor costs have become a heavy burden to foreign enterprises, especially manufacturers, who can cut costs by moving to Southeast Asia.
Chinese companies have been on a buying spree around the globe over the past two years. 2016 witnessed a record level of Chinese outbound mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, with 932 deals worth over $220 billion taking place, an increase of 246% compared to 2015, according to PwC China. However, the surge in outbound investments has brought concerns from both Chinese authorities and recipient countries; the latter are becoming more cautious regarding the presence of Chinese capital in large-scale deals in key industries. Affected by such concerns and tighter government scrutiny, the number of M&A deals might not be as numerous in 2017 as in 2016, but the trend will not stop.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, US President Donald Trump took the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With that failure, the spotlight has now fallen on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed trade deal among 16 countries in the Asia Pacific region which is widely seen as a Chinese initiative and a way of pushing back against US influence in Asia. However, compared to TCC, the RCEP has a much narrower scope and labor, environment, IP, competition policy, issues screaming for attention will not be significantly discussed. Meanwhile, TPP is not completely down without the US: Strong incentives for the TPP or a “TPP-lite” will remain.