China’s annual political meeting, the National People’s Congress, is a highly anticipated event where key decisions about the country’s political and economic direction are made. This year’s event, however, has raised eyebrows as internet giants were conspicuously absent, while chip bosses took center stage.
The absence of internet bosses is a significant departure from previous years when tech executives like Jack Ma of Alibaba and Pony Ma of Tencent would attend the event, often seen mingling with top government officials. This year, however, the chairs left empty, and the tech industry was barely mentioned in the speeches from senior leaders.
This change in approach comes amid growing concerns about the influence of tech firms in society and the need to ensure that they operate within the bounds of the law, with a particular focus on data security and privacy. The Chinese government has been increasing its scrutiny of tech firms, with several high-profile investigations launched into the likes of Alibaba and Tencent over the past year.
The absence of internet bosses is also a sign of a shift in focus towards other sectors, namely, the semiconductor industry. The Chinese government has been pushing to strengthen its domestic chip industry to reduce dependence on foreign technology and gain a competitive edge in critical industries such as telecommunications and artificial intelligence.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of semiconductor technology, and this year’s NPC saw a cluster of top executives from Chinese chipmakers such as SMIC, Unisoc, and Yangtze Memory Technologies in attendance. These firms are seen as key players in China’s ambitious plans to become a leader in chip technology by investing billions of dollars in research and development and building state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities.
The Chinese government has made it clear that it will support the development of a strong domestic chip industry through a range of measures, including subsidies, tax incentives, and R&D funding. The NPC outlined plans to increase investment in “strategic emerging industries,” including semiconductors, biotechnology, and new materials, and pledged to create a better business environment for these sectors.
This shift towards the semiconductor industry has been welcomed by experts such as Jeff Brown, a tech industry expert and founder of the China Investor newsletter, who argues that the industry’s development is critical for China’s long-term economic growth. Brown notes that “semiconductors are the fundamental building block of most modern technologies. Without a robust domestic chip industry, China risks falling behind in critical areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and supercomputing.”
While the focus on the semiconductor industry may mean less attention for the internet giants, it is also an opportunity for these firms to pivot towards new areas of growth. Many tech firms, including Alibaba and Tencent, have already made significant investments in the semiconductor industry and are working on developing their chip technologies.
The absence of internet bosses at the NPC is also a reminder that no single sector can dominate China’s economy, and that the government is committed to promoting a more balanced and diversified economic base. As China looks to become a high-income country, it needs to move away from its traditional reliance on exports and low-cost manufacturing towards more sophisticated and high-value industries.
This shift is already underway, with the government investing heavily in areas such as electric vehicles, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing. These sectors are seen as critical to China’s long-term economic growth and are also key priorities in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which outlines the economic and social objectives for the five years leading up to 2025.
In conclusion, the absence of internet bosses at China’s political meeting, the NPC, is a sign of a shift in focus towards other sectors, particularly, the semiconductor industry. This move reflects the government’s ambition to reduce reliance on foreign technology and develop a strong domestic chip industry. While this may mean less attention for the internet giants, it is also a reminder that no single sector can dominate China’s economy and that a more balanced and diversified economic base is critical to the country’s long-term growth.