The 2021 World Internet Conference has been held at the water town of Wuzhen in Zhejiang province, calling for renewed support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Following a quiet edition of the conference in 2020, this year the host venue was full of visitors, music and activities. In a virtual speech at the opening ceremony of the conference, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He urged countries around the world to safeguard the infrastructure, protect fair competition and boost innovations. “China has experience and capability to manage and control risks. Its development prospects are very bright,” Liu said, reaffirming the country's support for the sound development of the private economy, and the online and digital economy. Themed on “Towards a New Era of Digital Civilization – Building a Community with a Shared Future in Cyberspace”, the three-day conference runs until September 28.
Wu Hequan, Academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, refuted claims in the Western media that China was cracking down on internet firms. It is “a misinterpretation” that the Chinese government is restricting the development of the internet industry, as if the regulations have deeply impacted the economy, social security and people's livelihood, which is not true, Wu claimed. “We hope internet giants can continue to grow bigger and stronger, and at the same time, drive the development of small and medium-sized enterprises,” he noted. Only when SMEs have vitality, the online platforms could have vitality and so does the economy, Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang said. Lei Jun, CEO of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, also called on Big Tech to provide “all-process support and help to SMEs.”
Over the past year, the Chinese government has moved toward reining in Big Tech to prevent internet titans from abusing their excessive influence on markets, Cheng Maiyue, Director of the Wuzhen Institute told the Global Times, arguing against claims that the country's regulatory toughening is going too far. Oversight of giant platforms such as Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance is in essence an effort to harness the greed of capital to serve the public interest, he said. Improved regulation will promote competition and continued innovation, he added. Dixon Dai, Founder and Chairman of Wetrade Group, an exhibitor at the conference, told the Global Times that prospective innovation from internet companies must be relevant to the livelihoods of ordinary people, for instance, to the silver or aged economy. “Currently, the elderly Chinese have not gained tangible benefit from China's digital revolution,” he added.
According to a blue paper published at the conference, the CNY39.2 trillion digital economy has become a key driver to ensure the steady growth of the Chinese economy. It is estimated that by 2025, China's information service market will surpass CNY20 trillion, said Yang Jie, Chairman of China Mobile at the conference. One thing that sets this year's meeting apart from previous ones is the focus on cybersecurity, with a number of sub-forums related to this topic. One example is Ant Group's GeaGraph system, which can be used to fight money laundering and cyber fraud. Cristiano Amon, President and CEO of Qualcomm, hailed China’s ongoing efforts toward bringing 5G into major industries and improving consumers' lives. “We are already working with Chinese companies across many industries, helping them achieve their goals in China and around the world,” he added. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said, “China spends a lot of resources and efforts applying the latest digital technologies in different industries including the automobile industry, making China a global leader in digitalization. Tesla will continue to expand our investment and R&D efforts in China.”
This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Global Times and Shanghai Daily.