In recent years, China has emerged as a source for ground-breaking technological advancements and disruptive business models. The country’s rise as a global economic powerhouse is fuelled by its unparalleled commitment to innovation at a scale and speed that is unmatched by any other nation. China’s ability to swiftly adopt and deploy new technologies is instrumental in its quest for global innovation leadership. In this article we describe the characteristics of this innovation landscape and how Belgian companies can play a role in this ambitious technological battle.
The six characteristics of China’s innovation landscape
First, China has a tradition of ‘leapfrogging’. In the Western world we are used to step-by-step developments. For example, it took 3 decades to develop from a period with only fixed phones and no computers to today’s era, where everybody owns a laptop and a smartphone. The same happened with banking and payment systems and many other technological developments. In China these developments only took a very short period. China’s dedication to technological progress has allowed it to leapfrog ahead in various fields. The country has made significant steps in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G technology, robotics, biotechnology, and quantum computing.
Secondly, Chinese technology companies face less regulatory burdens, creating abundant opportunities for the introduction of new apps and disruptive business models. In Western countries it takes much longer before anything changes, or before governments or consumers allow changes to happen and new technologies to be launched.
Thirdly, consumers in China embrace technology much faster than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Chinese consumers accept that certain technologies don’t function perfectly at the start and give preference to increased convenience. Public transportation, car hailing, online shopping and payments, all is done by the touch of a button. Similar disruptive changes would create major upsets and even protests in the Western world. Western people don’t like change and prefer to stay in their comfort zone.
Fourth, China’s government plays a vital role in fostering a conducive environment for innovation. The Chinese authorities have developed comprehensive national strategies, such as “Made in China 2025” and “Internet Plus”, which aim to promote advanced manufacturing, digital transformation, and entrepreneurship. Innovation hubs, such as the Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing and the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, attract talent and foster collaboration between academia, research institutions and industries. These initiatives encourage rapid knowledge transfer and the commercialization of ideas on an unparalleled scale.
Fifth, one may question whether indeed China is running ahead or out-innovating Western advanced industrial countries. But what is true in any case is that the gap is closing in almost every area, and that China has significant advantages on the deployment side. Due to China’s vast market size and the dynamic consumer base, new technologies can be commercialized much sooner and at a bigger scale than in Western countries. This competitive advantage could make the difference between success or failure of the technology on a global level.
Finally, China’s ‘copycat’ reputation is rapidly evolving into a culture of innovation. Startups and established companies alike are increasingly focusing on fundamental research and development, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Chinese entrepreneurs are no longer content with replicating successful Western models; they are creating unique solutions tailored to the needs of Chinese consumers and expanding their global reach.
To conclude: China’s focus on speed and scale has revolutionized its approach to innovation, catapulting the country to the forefront of global technological advancements. Through strategic planning, government support, entrepreneurial spirit, and collaborative ecosystems, China has created an environment where ground-breaking ideas can flourish.
Belgian technology companies should be aware of these specific characteristics of the Chinese innovation ecosystem. Instead of perceiving China’s technological development as a threat, Belgian companies should proactively look for partners and collaborative systems of co-development and co-commercialization. Engaging with Chinese technology companies in an intelligent manner can not only offer opportunities for Belgian technology companies in China, but also in the rest of the world.
Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.