BEIJING — Ancient China boasts four era-defining inventions — papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass — that fundamentally changed human history.
Over past four decades, the Middle Kingdom has been largely known as the world’s factory floor, as cheap labor fueled its breathtaking economic growth and sold made-in-China products to every corner of the world.
But those who believe China will remain the world’s factory floor and “steal” jobs may need to think twice. In the last five years, the pace of innovation across China has notably sped up. The nation’s creativity is leading the world once again.
What follows are just a few of China’s recent innovations:
“China used to copy the Silicon Valley, but now Silicon Valley copies China,” said Li Le, who runs Zhubaijia, the Chinese version of Airbnb.
Zhubaijia started the practice of combing homestays with travel services, a business model that Airbnb soon followed.
But the real stars in the sector are bike-sharing companies. Orange or yellow two wheelers first appeared on China’s streets in 2015 when the two bike-sharing companies Mobike and Ofo were established.
Now more than 50 bike-sharing startups run a total of 15 million bikes in China, according to Shanghai Bicycle Association.
Mobike and Ofo each have 100 million registered users and more than 5 million bikes in 100 cities worldwide, with more than 20 million completed rides every day. By the end of this year, they expect to reach at least 200 cities worldwide.
Eager investors from China and abroad have injected $600 million and $700 million respectively into the two companies this year. The market value of Mobike has reached $3 billion.
The bike-sharing sector is the epitome of China’s booming sharing economy, which saw deals worth some 3.45 trillion yuan ($512 billion) in 2016, according to a report released by the Sharing Economy Research Center under the State Information Center.
The Chinese began using e-wallets amid an online shopping craze about a decade ago. Today, technological advancement has enabled China to lead the way as an emerging cashless society.
The Chinese now use their phones to buy food, pay bills, ride buses, invest in stocks, purchase insurance and donate to charity. In big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai it is rarer to find someone without a mobile wallet than someone without an actual wallet.
Ant Finance, Alibaba’s financial affiliate, tracked 450 million Chinese consumers and found 71 percent payments were made on mobile devices. About 90 percent of China’s millennials use mobile wallets.
In Q4 of 2016, mobile payment transactions in China reached 12.8 trillion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 126 percent, according to a report released by Analysys, a consultancy firm.
In addition to promotion in China, China’s leading mobile payments Alipay and WeChat Pay are making a dent in the global payment market.
WeChat Pay has covered more than 130,000 overseas businesses in 13 countries and regions, supporting settlements in 10 currencies. Alipay has entered more than 200 countries and regions supporting settlements in 18 varieties of currencies with more than 40 million overseas merchants using Alipay for settlement.
China has built one of the world’s most extensive high-speed rail networks in just a few years. It has even been able to offer quality rail products and supplies to other developing countries.
Though a latecomer in the sector after Europe and Japan, China holds many records in high-speed railways. It has the world’s longest high-speed rail network, 22,000 km as of the end of 2016, or 60 percent of the world’s total. The Beijing-Guangzhou HSR, which extends for more than 2,000 km, is the longest of its kind.
In 2014, China completed its first overseas high-speed rail in Turkey. In June 2015, China and Russia reached deals for pre-construction surveys and design for 770 km of track linking Moscow and Kazan. In October 2015, China and Indonesia signed a joint-venture agreement on the construction of a high-speed link between Jakarta and Bandung.
China’s high-speed railway is thriving due to its low cost, quick delivery and reliability. China’s high-speed rail has a maximum speed of 250 km per hour and has a construction unit cost of 87 million yuan, which is at most two-thirds of that in other countries, according to a paper released by the World Bank.
BELT AND ROAD
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed in 2013, aims to link the economies of dozens of countries with a land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and an ocean-based 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, propelling growth and social development along the routes.
The initiative is pioneering a new model of global economics based on the principles of mutual benefit to address myriad challenges facing the world, including sluggish trade and investment and wobbling economic globalization.
“The initiative aims to connect economies, communities and people. It holds great potential to bring benefits in terms of high-quality infrastructure, inclusiveness, and economic cooperation,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May.
So far, at least 68 countries and international organizations have signed agreements with China on Belt and Road cooperation. Trade between China and other Belt and Road countries exceeded $3 trillion between 2014 and 2016, and Chinese investment in these countries surpassed $50 billion.
A multidimensional infrastructure network is taking shape, one that is underpinned by economic corridors featuring land-sea-air transportation routes and information expressways and supported by major rail, port and pipeline projects.