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Chinese tech firms challenge Western counterparts with innovation

2017-January-11       Source: Global Times Net

Experts said that the launch of a nimble digital assistant on Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings' instant messaging app WeChat was another small step amid a string of efforts that could topple the supremacy of Western tech giants.

Experts said that the launch of a nimble digital assistant on Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings' instant messaging app WeChat was another small step amid a string of efforts that could topple the supremacy of Western tech giants, and a repetition of China's success stories in high-speed railways, ultra-high voltage (UHV) grids and nuclear power plants could well happen.

On Monday, WeChat launched a cloud-based gadget called "Mini Program," enabling 846 million WeChat users to search up to nearly 150 mobile services without having to download a separate app for each on their smartphones.

Users who encounter shortages of storage space could theoretically delete apps including those for car-hailing, food delivery and online shopping.

The launch caused a stir on China's social media as many tried to guess what would happen in the next 10 years, in part due to the launch date of the WeChat program coinciding with the iPhone's 10th anniversary, a landmark event in the development of the mobile Internet.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the move is the latest example of WeChat stepping up to challenge to global technology giants and into turf long ruled by Apple and Alphabet Inc's Google, via its Android operating system.

Such challenges by the likes of Tencent are happening at growing scale and frequency.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding is constantly beefing up its cloud computing unit Aliyun to compete with Western tech companies such as US-based Amazon.

Didi Chuxing outsmarted its US counterpart Uber in the Chinese market and also ventured overseas to compete with a raft of providers of car-hailing apps.

Chinese telecommunication equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co revealed its ambitions in operating systems (OS) and databases (DB).

It is not a fantasy that we might see Chinese success stories in high-speed railways, UHV grids and nuclear power plants repeated, said Tian Yun, director of the China Society of Macroeconomics Research Center.

Experts said all of these technologies have Western origins, but Chinese companies "digested" them and made some innovative changes, and these have become the knock-out products resembling the best Chinese achievements in science and technology.

"Compared with these material products, Internet products (and services) are slightly different in that they are subject to tougher security regulations, users' linguistic preferences and habits, so it is too early to say there will be a face-off moment for now," Tian said. "But seen from a perspective of development, the pressure of Chinese companies on their Western counterparts is a growing one."

Zhang Zhuo, a software industry analyst at International Data Corp (IDC), said in fundamental software such as OS and DB, China still lags behind Western countries. Microsoft Corp and Oracle Corp remain the dominant players.

"But it can be said that China is catching up and at an accelerating speed at that. The aggressiveness and input of Chinese firms is there. For instance, Chinese companies are developing OS and DB for corporate clients and conducting deep-level research and development on open-source systems," Zhang told the Global Times Tuesday.

"Huawei is now talking about how it has solved the gradual slowdown problem experienced by the Android OS, which users have complained frequently about. The fact that the company dares to say this publicly shows that Huawei is now making some fundamental improvement under the Android framework," Zhang said.

"The chase is on, and in the next five to 10 years, we will see something," Zhang said.

"I think the day is drawing nearer when we have a homegrown OS with comparable technological sophistication to existing choices. I give it five years. However, it will involve a wide range of factors such as marketing and ecosystem building to see it in successful commercialization," Zhang noted.

But the wide gap at present does not mean Chinese companies can't deal a heavy blow to Western competitors, noted Tian.

"The fate of many tech upstarts hinges on capital market valuations, as their profitability doesn't support their high market caps. Thus, the prospect of growth in the user base is of vital importance to these firms," Tian told the Global Times Tuesday.

"And while they can still easily defend their home turf, Chinese tech companies services such as WeChat and Alipay have routed them in the Chinese market and are becoming a phenomenon in emerging markets quickly, squeezing the growth prospects of Western firms," Tian said.

Xue Yu, an Internet analyst at IDC, said that Chinese companies have already achieved a competitive edge in certain aspects in Internet technologies.

"Because the demographic dividend in China is reaching its peak, it's certain that domestic Internet firms will pursue a path toward a global presence. Mini Program can be seen as one step in Tencent's strategy of global expansion," Xue told the Global Times Tuesday.

Tian noted the situation also reflects broad competition in science and technology, citing China's heavy investment and continued advances in spatial technologies, quantum communication and deep-sea science.

"A challenge to Western tech supremacy is already taking place. We just have to wait for the tipping point," Tian said.

Editor: Chan

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