Monthly Roundup - April 2021

Featuring updates on Chinese technology regulation, climate-friendly investing and the Digital Silk Road.

Benedict Altier
Benedict Altier

Silicon Roads is back this April, focusing on new content around China's digital economy and technology sector. Currently in the pipeline is an upcoming audio series, resources on technology regulation, and new original Silicon Roads research publications.

Each month we bring you updates and commentary on Chinese tech and the Chinese digital economy from around the web. Subscribe to stay updated with the latest each month alongside all our other content.

This month, Brookings explored how Chinese savings could be a significant driver of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) investments helping to support the transition to a low-carbon world. Leading Chinese officials such as Premier Li Keqiang have encouraged the development of Green Finance as a key driver of future economic growth in the country. Coupled with China's expansive savings base, a push for climate-friendly climate investments could facilitate sustainable infrastructure development while supporting continued investment returns.

News around the Chinese technology industry continues to focus on the state's attempts to reassert its control and influence over the sector. In April, this has included fines for Alibaba-backed delivery app for misleading pricing and allowing non-qualified merchants, Edtech companies for deceptive pricing practices, and most notably, a $2.8 billion fine for Alibaba related to its alleged antitrust violations. Following the fine, Tencent, Didi-Chuxing and others agreed to uphold China's anti-monopoly laws and commit themselves to fair competition practices.

Fresh off a widely publicised 5g roll-out, China is already looking ahead to the next generation of telecommunication technology. A report from China's Patent Office found that (link in Chinese) the country holds more than 35% of 6g patents worldwide, totalling more than 38,000. However, in the past Silicon Roads research into patents related to blockchain and artificial intelligence has found a tendency among some Chinese companies and institutions to produce large numbers of low-quality patents to secure funding and subsidies or attract central recognition.

A report jointly released by the (link in Chinese) People’s Daily, the Institute of Finance and Banking at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the National Institution for Finance & Development (rather unsurprisingly) found that China's top-tier cities Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen continue to hold their position as the country's leading centres for fintech. The strong technology and funding ecosystems in the cities help to easily outcompete rival cities even as subsidies continue to grow in provinces eager to attract top tech talent.

Protocol analysed the decline of a once-promising form of digital insurance called mutual aid, with products launched by Chinese tech platforms including Alibaba, Baidu and Meituan. It argues that the product's low-profit margins compared to other products and increasing scrutiny from regulators made the market a less than attractive option for big-tech companies.

Finally, the Diplomat assessed China's 'Digital Silk Road' (DSR), aimed at improving connectivity across Belt and Road countries, and what it means for digital governance. In line with China's goals for the Belt and Road initiative, the DSR seeks to reorientate partner countries away from a US-centric world-order by developing physical (and now digital) infrastructure developed by Chinese companies. This also helps in internationalising China's technology standards as it seeks to drive the conversation around technology regulation even beyond its borders.

Check back next month for a roundup of the latest developments in Chinese technology and the digital economy, or read other articles and research.

6gfintechregulationdigital silk roadESG

Benedict Altier

Benedict Altier studied Chinese at University of Oxford and now researches and writes about the Chinese digital economy.