Factor 2: the quality of the education system
Visiting Beida University, observing the size of its computer science department and interacting with students quickly convinces one of a level of requirement rarely seen in the world. What is probably the most impressive is the very high level of general knowledge that students have. China is often imagined as an autonomous empire, reluctant to take any interest in the rest of the world. In fact, it is quite the opposite: research work abroad, successful foreign business development models, regulatory systems, etc… All these international examples are clearly identified, subject to quite an extensive analysis and are a source of inspiration for China. The level of master's students, although obviously difficult to evaluate in just a few meetings, does not seem to be lower than that observed at the Israeli Technion or the American MIT.
Factor 3: the cluster effect
The interaction between large companies, university systems, start-ups and even regulators is maximized. It is impressive to enter the huge incubators, federated by the universities, and to talk to their managers. There we see the attention big entrepreneurs give to mentoring young talents. In addition, a significant number of professors are involved in start-ups or collaborate with large companies to help them with their digital transformations. It is not uncommon for Deans to have high responsibilities within the state apparatus or the Party and help implementing regulations to optimize the development of the digital ecosystem. Finally, critical size is considered essential: we have already observed that the smallest incubators, unable to meet the very heterogeneous needs of start-ups, were not adapted. Tsinghua's four incubators together represent the human resources of several thousand people and have succeeded in bringing out no less than 60 unicorns in about twenty years!
Chinese digital geostrategy: between innovation and regulation
After discussing with researchers on digital issues, we were impressed by the quality of their reflections. Political science has largely integrated technology as a major factor in fundamentally rethinking the country's social organization. The central government is particularly sensitive to these issues. A few months ago, I mentioned the books on Xi Jinping's bedside table, demonstrating that, at the highest level of the State, understanding the challenges of artificial intelligence is considered essential.
I had the chance to discuss with senior Party officials, close to the Central Committee, and I was amazed at their mastery of these subjects. Often, one of their obsessions is to find a middle way between innovation and regulation. In this respect, they judge harshly the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which they believe are designed exclusively from the point of view of user protection, without taking into account the constraints that it places on companies, especially small ones.
China and the protection of personal data
During these exchanges, I discovered that, contrary to a widespread idea in the West, Chinese digital start-ups are subject to numerous regulatory constraints, certainly as a result of censorship, but also to protect privacy, consumer rights and the employment conditions of platform workers, who are estimated to be in the millions in China. Thus, start-ups working in the medical field must obtain, before any experimentation, an authorization from the Ministry of Health, which scientifically assesses the risks that this could induce for patients.
Despite the obvious tightening of the regime, social scientists told me that they were convinced of the need to start planning regulations similar to what Europe has implemented with regard to data. While they understand that the famous social rating is in contradiction with the very principles of the European GDPR, they remain convinced that the challenge for China will be to find a middle way between the collective interest and respect for individual freedoms that the data economy requires.
One Belt, One Road
Everyone has heard about this $1 trillion financing plan initiative, the objective of which is to develop new silk routes to Europe using Chinese technologies. Every university and every major company must contribute to this project, and Chinese technologies are clearly analyzed as essential vectors of this strategy.