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Powerhouse in the making

By HE WEI in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-24 20:12
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SenseTime, a Chinese tech unicorn, showcases its smart car technology during the World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai in September. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Already known for finance and shipping, Shanghai carves a name for itself as a global tech hub

Editor's note: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China and the liberation of Shanghai. China Daily Global Weekly is running a special series of stories to commemorate the liberation of Shanghai on May 27, 1949, and revisit the feats accomplished by the city since that fateful day.

When Shanghai Vice-Mayor Wu Qing made the world's first 5G video call during a ceremony on March 30, he was turning the"high resolution, low latency" tech rhetoric into reality.

The deployment of the superfast mobile network will redefine life in Shanghai. With this new technology, residents will be able to watch live broadcasts of town hall meetings and enjoy lightning-quick downloads of high-resolution movies in public areas in the city.

On the larger scale, this accomplishment has affirmed Shanghai's reputation as a major technology hub and an attractive place for coders, algorithm engineers and startup firms.

But Shanghai was not always viewed as a tech powerhouse in China.

For years, there was an unspoken sense of disappointment in the city's technology circles about not being home to any of the companies within the coveted tech trinity — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Rather than just trying to lure big names, however, the municipality crafted industry plans that played to its strengths "with both discretion and foresight", according to industry experts.

"Shanghai is not lagging behind but sticking to its own pace," said Hsiao-Wuen Hon, vice-president of Microsoft and managing director of Microsoft Research Asia.

"In fact, government officials here were engaged in discussions of developing artificial intelligence at a time when nobody really took it too seriously."

Shanghai's efforts to become a global tech hub started gaining steam in 2016 when it officially announced its ambition to transform itself into a science and technology center of core functions with global influence by 2030. Four major tasks, including establishing a comprehensive national science center and implementing basic projects and strategic programs, were identified as being crucial to the achievement of this goal.

The city then stepped on the gas pedal by unveiling a string of measures such as improved talent policies, preferential taxation, the identification of more high-tech enterprises, and the enhancement of tech-related infrastructure.

This science and tech ambition then came into full swing when Shanghai's Party Chief Li Qiang introduced the concept of promoting the city's "four brands" in late 2017. Through this initiative, Shanghai would encourage the incubation of core technologies and uphold"Shanghai manufacturing" as a core pillar in its development.

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