What to expect at China’s World Internet Conference

Sara Hsu China Plus Published: 2017-12-03 09:08:47
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By Sara Hsu

The 4th World Internet Conference in Wuzhen is scheduled for December 3-5, and is expected to attract up to 1,500 internet innovators and scholars from around the globe. The event will cover the digital economy, cutting-edge technology, internet and society, network space governance, and communications and cooperation. The conference will provide a forum in which internet leaders from all over the world can interact and will showcase the Innovative technologies of large domestic and foreign internet companies. What can we expect from this event?

A boat is seen on a river in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 2, 2017. The fourth World Internet Conference (WIC) will be held in the river town of Wuzhen from Dec. 3 to 5. [Photo: Xinhua]

A boat is seen on a river in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 2, 2017. The fourth World Internet Conference (WIC) will be held in the river town of Wuzhen from Dec. 3 to 5. [Photo: Xinhua]

First of all, the sub-forums will cover topics like artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, and internet-driven poverty alleviation. Artificial intelligence is a field of rapid development, with major technology firms investing heavily in this area. The government also supports the development of artificial intelligence, with the aim of creating a $150 billion industry by 2030. Another important topic is the sharing economy in China, which has spread like wildfire, with bicycle sharing and even umbrella sharing becoming widespread. The subforum is organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and State Information Center (SIC) and co-organized by Didi Chuxing Internet-driven poverty alleviation has involved the construction of databases on poor households, designed to include information on government assistance in areas like housing and medical care.

A fintech sub-forum, sponsored by the People’s Bank of China and Xinhua News Agency, will focus on improving the relationship between financial technology and the real economy. China’s fintech industry has been growing rapidly as support in the form of better risk modeling and venture capital become increasingly available.

Second, the conference will feature new developments like Alibaba's unmanned supermarket, smart robots, and quantum communication devices. Alibaba’s unmanned supermarket allows customers to purchase items themselves without interacting with a staff person, and follows a general trend of staffless convenience stores. The store incorporates computer vision, biometric recognition, and sensing technologies to recognize and track customers and their purchases. China is also engineering an increasing number of smart robots. These include home assistants, manufacturing robots, and cloud-intelligence based robots. Another feature will be quantum communication devices. China has launched a quantum communication network in the city of Jinan which is unhackable due to the use of quantum cryptography.

Third, we can expect that new innovations showcased this year will be put into use in the coming months. At last year’s conference, Ant Financial demonstrated its Smile to Pay facial recognition device that is now in use at a KFC in Hangzhou. At this location, customers only need to smile after placing their order in order to pay for their meal. JD featured a drone and driverless vehicle that carry out logistics for e-commerce. This is currently being implemented for use in areas that are more difficult to reach, such as last-mile and rural deliveries. 

Fourth, there will be a focus on inclusivity, as the title of the conference is ‘Developing e-Commerce and Improving Sharing in the Digital Economy - Building a Common Destiny in Cyberspace’. Several international organizations, like the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Economic Forum (WEF), will attend. Inclusivity in this context focuses on inclusion of the poor, social responsibility, cultural exchange, and international cooperation. 

The conference will take place in an innovation-oriented city. Wuzhen is home to the Wuzhen Comprehensive Experimental Zone for the Internet Innovation and Development, Wuzhen Big Data High-tech Industrial Park, and Wuzhen Internet Featured Town. The internet pilot zone was launched in 2015, in order to promote China’s Internet Plus policy of integrating internet experience with traditional industries. Wuzhen Big Data High-tech Industrial Park is an industrial park designed to benefit from the transfer of industries from Shanghai and Hangzhou, with a target output of RMB 42 billion following five years of development.

Internet industry leaders from around the world have been invited. Large domestic firms Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent and large foreign firms Microsoft, Cisco, and Facebook have all confirmed their attendance at the upcoming meeting. Keynote speeches will be given by Li Cheng, director of the John L. Thornton China Center; Niall Ferguson, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; and Stephen A. Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

The conference will provide a platform for internet participants to discuss current topics and the future path of internet-based industries. Further developments in this area are likely to boost China’s digital economy, which is growing both in technology-intensive and traditional industries alike. This is due, to a large extent, to support from central and local governments, as well as to China’s current environment of innovation.

(Sara Hsu, associate professor, the State University of New York at New Paltz)

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.