Developments in the digital economy arising from China’s anti-coronavirus fight are set to accelerate the country’s economic transformation. Photo by Cai Meng/China Daily/Asia News Network

BEIJING — Developments in the digital economy arising from China’s anti-coronavirus fight are set to accelerate the country’s economic transformation and upgrading beyond the epidemic, according to analysts.

New “digital infrastructures” including the internet of things and big data that have significantly contributed to the headway made against the COVID-19 outbreak, in sectors ranging from healthcare and medical supplies to education and logistics, will further stabilize and spur investment, growth and consumption, analysts agreed at a major online forum organized by leading think tank Center for China and Globalization on Thursday.

The latest technologies help form “an important way to resolve the adverse effects of the epidemic and achieve stable and orderly economic development. In the long run, the new infrastructure is a cornerstone for high-quality development”, the think tank’s vice-president and secretary-general Miao Lu said.

Zhang Lianqi, member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and vice-head of the Chinese Tax Institute, said the fresh impetus fueling the Chinese economy called for a broad awareness of the changes, even as markets and sectors took hold of the digitization opportunities through innovation.

“Digital technology has improved significantly. We have accumulated a lot of experience and a lot of so-called infrastructure for emerging industries… there are signs that the country is ready to invest, in the digital transformation of traditional industries, including services transformation, information management and intelligent manufacturing,” Zhang said.

Huo Jianguo, former head of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, said investment in the digital sphere marks a significant move away from that in traditional sectors such as railways, roads, airports and ports which have more or less matured in their development-it is now time to turn to new areas, including the upgrading of domestic consumer levels and behavior that can better meet the challenges and opportunities of the global economy.

Huang Rihan, executive director of the think tank’s Belt and Road Institute, and executive director of the China Digital Economy Institute, said the wide-ranging “digital disruptions” seen in the Chinese economy reflect an important time for the country and its future economic development that extends to its global role as it emerges from the COVID-19 challenge. Innovation in digital information technologies for healthcare have, for instance, complemented the resumption of Chinese production of medical supplies to other countries still struggling with the pandemic, Huang said.

“China’s digital economy has also contributed to the development of internationalization. In fact, not only is the government helping the world, China’s private enterprise is also helping the world … the digital economy has had a huge economic effect not only on the domestic front but also in the international sphere, which is why it is important to strengthen its development,” Huang said.

The next steps include comprehensively integrating enterprises with production and supply chains with the digital networks, so that artificial intelligence, big data, algorithms, and e-commerce technologies are combined more fully with the real economy, he said.

“Building China into an ‘electronic hub’ for these business ‘routers’…continuously connected to the world’s goods … This will also promote the development of the real economy … and promote the rise and rebirth of the consumer,” Huang said.

Jiang Rongsheng, assistant president of Venustech group, a major provider of network security products, services and management platforms, said the new digital infrastructure includes leading technology like 5G communications, artificial intelligence and the internet of things that form a “digitization empowering the Chinese economy and propelling the digital transformation of entire society with new trends in the country’s economic development”.

“It is about integration. The new infrastructure will further accelerate the integration of the digital world and the physical world, and the boundary between the two will become increasingly blurred,” Jiang said.

Zhai Shanying, chairman of Peogoo digital and financial services group, said Chinese entrepreneurs need to fully grasp the concept of a digital economy to better tap its opportunities.

“The real digital economy has completely revolutionized the traditional economic system. For example, current e-commerce is a complete change from traditional commerce. It is actually a complete, comprehensive system of digital thinking, operations, management, services, marketing, sales and finance,” he said.

Wang Jian, professor of international business and e-business at the University of International Business and Economics, said the COVID-19 battle has sparked innovation and the development of the country’s economic model, but there must now be a careful and calibrated approach toward the support and application of the digital infrastructure.

“Application issues include how we view existing infrastructure and make good use of these infrastructures. I propose a term, ‘integration’, on how to truly integrate the existing digital infrastructure effectively so that companies can use it well,” Wang said.

“This may be much more than building a few data centers. The construction of digital infrastructure is not a simple construction or improvement of hardware facilities. It is about using our existing infrastructure resources to serve more enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises that fuel business.

“Since it is about infrastructure construction, it should be inclusive in all aspects.”


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