Not many people outside China are aware that digital Health QR code apps have been widely used across the country that show an individual’s risk of COVID-19 infection with a red, yellow or green QR code on their mobile phone. Hundreds of different adaptations of these apps being used in China by cities, towns and regional governments. Behind their widespread adoption are local governments and grass-root community governing bodies and neighbourhood committees. Their in-situ pragmatic use has enabled China’s return-to-work project to materialise safely and speedily, district by district, city by city, region by region. …


Most cities in China are back in business and production assembly lines have started running again after the Covid-19 pandemic swept the country. This took only about six weeks from the complete lockdown implemented in Wuhan on 23 January 2020. Crucial to this reopening is managing the risk of a second wave of infection using an innovative application of artificial intelligence to allocate people a new health QR-code.

Hangzhou, 200 kilometres south of Shanghai, is the capital of Zhejiang province and the city of my birth. I have been closely following the situation there. During the peak of the outbreak, Zhejiang had the second highest number of Covid-19 cases after the Hubei province (of which Wuhan is the capital). In the last two weeks, news from Hangzhou has been positive. Companies and organisations are operating again but schools remain closed. An old friend even suggests “the whole country will soon be GREEN on all Health QR- Codes”. But what are these “Health QR- Codes” and what is the underpinning digital system that China has been using? …


As the number of Covid 19 cases grows exponentially in the UK, and as we wait to see if the current physical distancing measures succeed in rapidly reducing the rate of spread, it is hard to believe that we will return to “normal” life any time soon. But whilst we wait and agonise, most cities in China are back in business and production assembly lines are running. This took only about six weeks from the complete lockdown in Wuhan on 23rd January 2020. Crucial to this reopening is managing the risk of a second wave of infection.

Hangzhou, 200 kilometres south of Shanghai, is the capital of Zhejiang province and the city of my birth. I have been closely following the situation there. During the peak of the outbreak, Zhejiang had the second highest number of Covid 19 cases after Hubei (of which Wuhan is the capital). In the last two weeks, news from Hangzhou has been positive. Companies and organisations are operating again except for schools. An old friend even suggests “the whole country will soon be GREEN on all Health QR- Codes”. What is this digital system China has been using? And how might it help to prevent a second wave? …


I have been studying Alibaba for a while, and have watched an internet company that began by imitating eBay become an internet behemoth. Alibaba’s businesses have expanded into almost every corner of Chinese people’s everyday lives. Its business strategy seems to be pretty consistent, following what people, “the masses”, need and offering free and/or low cost services. I used to find Alipay — a mobile payment system — a quintessentially new creation, but its subsequent innovations have amazed me not an iota less.

Alibaba’s Ant Financial has taken on an unprecedented challenge of offering loan services to tens of millions of Chinese small and microbusinesses - SMicroEs - which have no guarantor, no collateral, and no credit history. Many Fintech companies across the world offer loans by using innovative digital lending technologies, but they shield themselves from high risk loans, excluding those which do not have a good credit history. …


On 19 May, it was confirmed that Google had revoked Huawei’s Android license. Other top US tech companies such as Qualcomm, Broadcom, have also cut off Huawei’s supplies. However, the most devastating blow to Huawei is perhaps that Google services, including the Google Play store and Gmail will be unavailable to Huawei phone users. Recently, Huawei smart phones with their relatively high specification and low price have become increasingly popular outside China, particularly in emerging markets (in Colombia, for example, one out of five smart phones owned by users are by Huawei).

To me, having bought a Huawei phone last year alongside 200 million other people across the globe, this news is very worrying. I, like millions of users, use Google Play store for searching, selecting and installing mobile apps. More seriously, the Google Mail account is usually the umbrella account for a user to log in to a vast array of other applications and services hosted by Google. Like many hundreds of millions of users, I have been using Gmail since its conception. And like 1 billion active Google Play users worldwide, my everyday life and work, alongside the expanding of Google’s app services and user networks, has become increasingly dependent on Google. It’s hard to imagine life without it. …


The question whether Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) are mere imitations of Google, Amazon and Facebook (GAF) has been bothering me for more than a decade. As a Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholar with a technological background in ICT and a research focus on China, it follows me like Peter Pan’s shadow. Friends and colleagues tell me that they see BAT as Chinese GAF - “they are doing the same things you see” - and my accounts of Alibaba or Tencent’s “innovative things” don’t seem to convince them.

In many ways, I agree with them. For the last few decades, China has been imitating - I would say has had to imitate ­- the West to fit into the system of international operations and to trade under market economy rules. …

About

Dr Xiaobai Shen

Senior Lecturer in International and Chinese Business, University of Edinburgh Business School

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