Digital economy gives quality edge to growth, innovation

    Update Time:2018-01-08 Source:

    Traditional industries are back in vigor, and jobs increase on spread of technology

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

    Risk-takers

    The country's digital economy amounted to 22.58 trillion yuan (about $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 $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.

    The company has plowed big money into forging competitiveness in fintech (financial technologies) 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 said in a report.

    As of June, there were 3.89 billion internet users around the world, of whom 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 JD.com, 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.

    Growth points

    At the recent three-day Central Economic Work Conference, China's policymakers pledged to steer the economy onto a new path featuring high-quality rather than high-speed growth.

    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 operational costs," the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said.

    Wu Hequan, an academic 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 whom 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.

    Rising innovators

    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, and Tencent ... are driving technical performance such as computing efficiency to set new world-class standards," the MGI said.

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

    One in three of the world's 262 unicorns (or startups valued at more than $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.