‘Silicon Valley’ China

The following was in answer to a series of questions by a journalist from International Finance Magazine.

The specific questions and answers are:

> Do you think China can be the next Silicon Valley? Indubitably

> What are your reasons? See this paper

> What according to you are the differentiating factors between China and Silicon Valley? Longevity, experience and culture including education system.

> Which are the areas where China scores points over Silicon Valley and which are the areas wherein it needs to improve?Whereas the US has a Silicon Valley and the area around Boston, China has several dozen ‘silicon valleys’ though most are in embryonic stage. Whereas the US Silicon Valley has a long history of success, which breeds success, the Chinese ones are all very new, although the oldest Zhongquancun in a Beijing suburb dates from the 80s; and in 2014 launched nearly 50 tech start-ups. See III.

> What steps does China need to take to have more of AliBabas in the country? See this paper which suggests that steps are already being taken.

> Some say that there is no dearth of money in China and hence there are many VCs and private equity firms. However, what is lacking is a disciplined approach. Your take on this. Agreed. However, the two magnets for investment in the past have been real estate and the so-called stock market, which is another name for legalized gambling.  Both have suffered reverses, property for a while and recently the stock market.  The Chinese investor is a quick learner.  Sooner rather than later they will turn to instruments and institutions that invest in innovation.

> How well are the young Chinese embracing entrepreneurship? The young in general are following the old path of secure jobs in government or established industry.  But with 1.3 billion people, there are enough youngsters interested in innovation and entrepreneurship for them to be a real force.

>Does the education system in China foster this? No it does not, See II – 3. last para.

 ==================

I believe that China is rapidly catching up with the US in innovation and entrepreneurship.  I say this for four reasons:

i. China has always been innovative and inventive.

ii. The Chinese government sees innovation and entrepreneurship as the solution to its rapidly dated ‘cheap’ mass manufacturing. It knows that China is experiencing its version of the industrial revolution in a fraction of the time it took the west and needs a new trick up its sleeve if China is not to be relegated to a third-world nation once again.

iii. China is already innovative and entrepreneurial in practice and speeding up the learning curve at the same speed it took up industrialization after Deng.

iv. Some respected ‘guru’s think so too.

I.   China has always been innovative and very inventive.

 We have all heard of gunpowder, movable press, paper making and the compass.  In 1948, Joseph Needham, Cambridge University set out to document Chinese innovation – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Needham Needham had heard a lot about this and was slightly skeptical, so he started professional research on it.  Today, his work – Science and Civilisation in China  – is still in progress although he passed away.  Seven volumes in 27 books have been published so far and the end is not in sight.  To help the lay reader, Prof Robert Temple has written a short book on it – The Genius of Chinahttp://www.curledup.com/geniusch.htm

II.  The Chinese government is focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.

It knows that its current USP, inexpensive and mass manufacturing will not last.  In fact, in some low tech areas it is discouraging any new factories.  It has also been steadily pushing up the minimum wage, thereby discoursing such manufacturing. In my view it has done four specific things to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship:

  1. Five-year plans, in particular:
  1. a. the 12th (2011 – 2015) – http://www.c2es.org/international/key-country-policies/china/energy-climate-goals-twelfth-five-year-plan – which included this section:

              Old pillar industries               The new strategic and emerging industries

1 National defense Energy saving and environmental protection
2 Telecom Next generation information technology
3 Electricity Biotechnology
4 Oil High-end manufacturing (e.g. aeronautics, high speed rail)
5 Coal New energy (nuclear, solar, wind, biomass)
6 Airlines New materials (special and high performance composites)
7 Marine shipping Clean energy vehicles (PHEVs and electric cars)

Sources: “Decision on speeding up the cultivation and development of emerging strategic industries,” http://www.gov.cn, September 8, 2010, http://www.gov.cn/ldhd/2010-09/08/content_1698604.htm; HSBCChina’s next 5-year plan: What it means for equity markets, October 2010.

1.b and the 13th (2016 – 2020) – http://www.chinabusinessreview.com/understanding-chinas-13th-five-year-plan/ – one of whose aims is likely to be “to support emerging industries”

  1. “Made in China 2025” policy – http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2015-05/19/content_20760528.htm -The 10 key sectors are new information technology, numerical control tools and robotics,aerospace equipment, ocean engineering equipment and high-tech ships, railway equipment,energy saving and new energy vehicles, power equipment, new materials, biological medicineand medical devices, and agricultural machinery.
  2. “Mass innovation and entrepreneurship” – http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/tech/2015-01/29/content_19436562.htm– “Chinawill foster a platform offering low-cost services in a variety of areasto micro businesses and individual start-ups that show

The government will also step up policy support, such as simplifying registration proceduresand giving subsidies, to innovative businesses. They will improve financing systems to givespecial support to start-up companies, according to the statement.

Although China’s broader economy is slowing, China’s young entrepreneurs are driving awave of startups that has become a bright spot for the economic landscape and an importantengine for future growth.

The number of newly founded companies in China surged almost 46 percent year on year to3.65 million in 2014, the latest data showed.”

China is very aware that the current education system does not foster innovation or entrepreneurship; so it is proposing major reform – http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015twosession/2015-03/11/content_19783458.htm – Current Chinese education has been criticized by many for being rigid and killing students’ imagination. In many exams, students are supposed to memorize the standard answer instead of putting forward their own ideas.

“Innovation requires the ability to seek different answers to the same question, through which they still reach the right destination,”

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2015-01/28/c_133954148.htm – “China’s State Council pledged to take various steps to create an amicable environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in order to power growth and generate jobs. … Although China’s broader economy is slowing, China’s young entrepreneurs are driving a wave of startups that has become a bright spot for the economic landscape and an important engine for future growth.

The number of newly founded companies in China surged almost 46 percent year on year to 3.65 million in 2014, the latest data showed.”

III. Innovation in practice

In practice, China now leads in world patent filing – https://chindia-alert.org/2015/05/21/patent-applications-lead-the-worldfocuschinadaily-com-cn/ – though in terms of patents filed in the US it is still behind Japan.

Chinese ‘silicon valleys’ – in addition to Zhongquancun, opened in the 80s – 80s –http://www.forbes.com/sites/ruima/2014/10/20/one-billion-chinese-entrepreneurs/andhttp://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-11/china-s-silicon-valley-sparking-49-technology-startups-a-daythere are dozens around the country.  It seems the ‘copycat’ syndrome applies to coy-catting innovation and entrepreneurship!- http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-23/china-wants-silicon-valleys-everywhere

Chinese innovative products include, of course, AliBaba; but also, according to Forbes, in eight ‘industries –http://www.forbes.com/sites/anaswanson/2014/11/30/eight-innovative-industries-china-does-better-than-anywhere-else/:

  1. Micropayments
  2. E-commerce
  3. Delivery services
  4. Online investment products
  5. Cheap smart phones
  6. High speed rail
  7. Hydroelectricity
  8. DNA sequencing

IV.From ‘guru’s

You do not need to take my word for it, see comments by:

  1. Kai-Fu Lee, Google exec – http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/07/30/behind-the-surge-in-chinese-tech-startups/?mod=chinablog&mod=chinablog
  2. McKinsey & Co – http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/asia-pacific/a_ceos_guide_to_innovation_in_china
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