Chinese elites are currently gathering in Beijing for the country's biggest annual political meeting, the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, known colloquially as the Two Sessions. Among the participants: CEOs from Chinese Big Tech.
The meeting is democratic in name only, but delegates are allowed to put forward proposals on major political, economic and social issues. It's unclear how much weight proposals carry, but they signal what Chinese Big Tech thinks the government wants to see — and how tech CEOs think they can use government resources to bolster their bottom lines.
Protocol | China conducted a word frequency analysis of the outlines of 10 tech titans' policy proposals, as the full proposals have not been made public. (The full list of CEO names is at the bottom.) Here are the terms that came up again and again:
Let's unpack the major findings:
Intelligence. Artificial intelligence.
The term that appears the most frequently (32 times) in Protocol's analysis is "intelligence" (智能), which includes "artificial intelligence" (人工智能), echoing the emphasis in China's fourteenth Five-Year Plan on achieving science and technology "self-reliance."
As Baidu tries to establish itself as an AI powerhouse, its CEO Robin Li shows up as the most frequent advocate for AI-related policies. Li has submitted a total of five proposals that mentioned artificial intelligence a total of nine times. As Baidu ventures into the driverless car-making business, Li is calling for wide application of artificial intelligence, big data, 5G and other technologies in building a low-carbon and efficient transportation system. He also supports policies that will encourage companies to increase R&D investments in self-driving cars.
Zhou Hongyi, CEO of cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360, suggested the state encourage the installation of enhanced cybersecurity systems in smart vehicles.
Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun calls for government support for "smart manufacturing" (智能制造). The term encompasses advanced manufacturing processes, systems and models based on a new generation of information technology, including the Internet of Things and cloud computing. Smart manufacturing is one of the innovation priorities highlighted in the latest Five-Year Plan. As Xiaomi establishes itself as not just a global phone maker but the Ikea of smart-home devices, Lei hopes to promote collaborative R&D between the industry, academia and research institutes that will help the company make breakthroughs in these markets.
Digital. Digitization. Digital economy.
"Digital," "digitization" and "digital economy" received 26 combined mentions across seven tech bosses' proposal outlines. Local merchant-listing site 58.com's Zhang Jindong, Tencent's Pony Ma, Suning Chairman Zhang Jindong and NetEase CEO Ding Lei all suggest industrial policies that would upgrade the country's digital infrastructure to bring digital solutions to local services, governance, rural commerce and the culture and tourism industries.
Elderly. Aging. Old people.
As China ages and the tech industry struggles to find users who haven't been exposed to high tech, the elderly — a growing population with tremendous buying power — is becoming the next must-win market the tech elite cannot afford to leave behind.
The term "elderly" and five close variations of the word appear 20 times in the proposal outlines. Four tech CEOs — Robin Li, Lei Jun, Yang Yuanqing, Wang Xiaochuan — have made proposals to address China's elderly population of 255 million. Lei Jun, CEO of smartphone maker Xiaomi, called for standardization for digital products and smart devices catering to the elderly and seeks government guidance for incorporating the older population into China's social fabric. Baidu's Robin Li advocated for policy support in building Smart Aging facilities and technologies, in line with the company's push in artificial intelligence R&D. Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing, and Sogo's CEO Wang Xiaochuan recommended strengthened enforcement of personal information security and personal privacy protection for the elderly, alongside policy support for better tech products and services targeting this population.
Rural. Village. Peasants.
Big Tech is salivating over the rural market — dubbed somewhat confusingly as the "sinking market" (下沉市场) in Chinese slang. It's 40% of the country, a huge market that essentially remained largely untapped until in the past few years. Now, it's where much of the country's economic growth will happen.
Together, Tencent CEO Pony Ma and Suning Chairman Zhang Jindong mention "village," "countryside," "agriculture" or "peasants" 19 times in their proposal outlines.
Ma, whose company announced big plans to foray into the ag tech sector last year, would like to see more training on ecommerce and agriculture tech for residents living in the countryside and further exploration of digital tools that can help "left-behind children" and the elderly. Zhang, CEO of electronics retailer giant Suning, devotes all three of his proposals to addressing issues involving China's 40% rural population. Zhang suggests the government promote retailing in rural China through financial incentives and talent introduction and accelerate the training of rural ecommerce talents, among other things. Like Ma, Zhang is talking his book: Suning has been pushing its Lingshouyun, a smart retail platform focused on the rural market, since 2017.
They'll both have the wind at their back; China's central government has put particular emphasis on rural ecommerce, rolling out a national policy in 2020 to develop rural ecommerce infrastructure in hopes of bringing more money to the country's 550 million farmers.
One surprise: pro-women policy
NetEase's male CEO Ding Lei calls for reducing the childbirth burden for women, suggesting shared parental leave for new parents and better public childcare services. The vast number of women who work in elite tech companies will appreciate Ding's proposal; sexism is rife in China's male-dominated tech industry. Tech companies' infamous overtime work culture further disadvantages their female workers, who are still expected to shoulder the lion's share of household and caretaking work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all but one of the tech bosses making proposals as delegates during the Two Sessions is a man.
The authors of the proposal outlines analyzed are Tencent CEO Pony Ma, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun, Baidu CEO Robin Li, Qihoo 360 CEO Zhou Hongyi, NetEase CEO Ding Lei, Gree Electric President Dong Mingzhu, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing, Suning Chairman Zhang Jindong, 58.com CEO Yao Jinbo and Sogou CEO Wang Xiaochuan.
Clara Wang contributed research.