“Silicon Valley is now looking East,” writes Ashley Galina Dudarenok in the South China Morning Post, as Mark Zuckerberg seems to want Facebook to mimic Chinese social-media giant WeChat by shifting focus to messaging and privacy. It’s the first time a Silicon Valley tycoon has publicly mused that “a Chinese digital ecosystem is worth learning from and emulating,” Dudarenok writes.
WeChat dominates social media in China the way Facebook does in the US, and its multifunctionality—it allows users to shop and make payments—has turned heads. It’s part of a larger trend, Dudarenok writes, expecting China to export more tech advancements to the West.
Called Weixin in China, it dominates the country’s social media. Its interface is in Chinese and it can only be downloaded from within the country with a China-based phone number. It has far more functions and abilities than the international version. It can be used to shop, request a taxi, order food, buy air tickets, check in for your flight, book a medical appointment, pay utility bills and even file an application for a divorce in some cities. No one ever needs to leave the app.
When one looks at statements that Zuckerberg has made and the initiatives the company has championed, it seems that one goal he’s had for Facebook is for it to be a smaller, more manageable version of the internet that people don’t leave … just like WeChat is now in China.
In some ways, Facebook has succeeded. However, there’s been pushback over the years, especially against its Free Basics initiative, which offered free internet access in developing countries but only to a few sites, Facebook being one of them.
Within China, WeChat has been able to achieve this not by restricting access (with the exception of competitors such as Alibaba and sites already blocked by the Chinese government) but by creating more pathways. It hasn’t created a smaller internet, but a more connected one, available in one place, centred on personal needs and daily use.
China’s digital progress can also be seen in the app TikTok .The short video app is a leading platform in Asia, the US and the rest of the world. It has hit 500 million global monthly active users and was the most downloaded non-game app in the Apple Store in the first quarter of 2018.
Two weeks ago, Google unveiled its cloud gaming platform, Stadia, joining Microsoft and Tencent in the gaming space. Silicon Valley is now looking east. And so is Berkshire Hathaway. At the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in May 2018, Charlie Munger mentioned WeChat as the potential cloud on the horizon for credit card companies such as American Express.
For many years, globalisation has meant the global adoption of Western ways. Now it’s obvious that China is taking a leading role and repositioning itself on the world stage. According to a McKinsey report, a large part of China’s outbound investment focuses on manufacturing, AI and the internet of things. In the past decade, China’s internet giants have built their own AI labs and invested aggressively in AI companies around the world.
China’s relentless focus and investment in data has paid off. With more people than anywhere else in the world and a gigantic trove of data, it has enormous advantages in this area and is using them to supercharge research and development, as well as industrial and medical solutions.
The Chinese government is continuing progress on its “Belt and Road Initiative”, building infrastructure, investing in multiple countries and organisations, and racing ahead in 5G technology. Huawei, which claims to have the world’s fastest 5G commercial solutions, will deploy an ultra-fast 5G telecom network in a Shanghai railway station in a world first. Born in China but going global – is this the next trend?