For a long time, people have been saying that China’s strength is not in technology innovation, but if you take a closer look at what has been going on inside of China, you might think differently. David Aikman, the Representative Officer and Managing Director of Greater China World Economic Forum (WEF), shared his thoughts on the current state of China’s tech development and innovation on the TechCrunch Hangzhou stage. Aikman believes that there is a disconnect in how the world is perceiving China and what is really going on in China in terms of innovation.

A big focus for the WEF effort is on emerging technologies—the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution—because technologies have so much potential for solving the world’s problems and reap massive benefits to society. Aikman said China is embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution better than many countries and he is surprised by how fast China is developing. A lot of Chinese tech companies have started to emerge over the past few years and many are already making significant contributions to the country’s GDP growth.

Engaging with the global market increases China’s innovation

Going global is going to increase the innovation capacity of Chinese companies. Aikman said their previous research shows when companies are exploring overseas markets, it makes them much more innovative and competitive in the domestic market. This is because the very challenge of going out to tap the needs of overseas customers in new markets and new regulations force the companies to adjust their services and solutions.

“The more China goes out there and the more Chinese companies engage with the global market, the more they will increase their innovation capacity,” he explained.

Aikman said the current generation of tech entrepreneurs in China have the global DNA from the beginning. “So many of the first generation of innovators like Lenovo or Huawei were very much domestic and then went global. When you look at companies like DJI in drones, BGI in genomics these companies have been wired globally from the beginning.”

Communication is still a big problem with Chinese tech companies. Aikman said he hopes to see more Chinese companies engage in conversations with its global peers and shaping important conversations on emerging tech industries such as blockchain, AI, and automotive.

Aikman said the US-China trade war is really more about technology than trade: it is about who will dominate the 4th Industrial Revolution. Countries are looking to foster and build up competitive domestic industries in order not to be reliant on other parties. Aikman said WEF’s role is to get everybody on the table and start talking.

In the interview following his on-stage talk, Aikman told TechNode that “China is embracing this industrial revolution probably better than any other county, because what China realized is that it may be too late to become a semiconductor superpower, but it’s not too late to become an AI superpower, it’s not too late to become a leader in quantum computing.”

Aikman thinks that China has been very smart at leveraging the opportunities of emerging technologies:

“It wants to keep growing its economy, it wants to keep lifting people out of poverty. It has very deliberate ambitions and plans about what it wants to achieve.”

Nicole Jao is a reporter based in Beijing. She’s passionate about emerging trends, news, and stories of human interest within the world of technology. Connect with her on Twitter or via email:

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