Earlier this month, I wrote about my interview with Jack Zhang, founder and CEO of GeekPark, a tech innovation advocacy forum in Beijing, and what China and the United States can learn from each other in the areas of technology and innovation. But there’s more to the story: Zhang also shared his views on some topics that are more controversial, including internet censorship, corporate espionage and software piracy.
I opened this portion of the interview by asking Zhang if he believes the current U.S. Administration’s policies are good for China, or bad for China. He responded with the caveat that he was sharing his personal opinion:
From some perspectives there may be a positive impact on China, because it seems like the United States is more focused on the homeland, and its own business. But there’s a whole world out there, and Chinese entrepreneurs — startup companies and innovators — aren’t satisfied with staying in the Chinese market, even though the market is huge. They will go global — it seems that the Chinese government is pushing for global, seeking more influence in the world. Chinese entrepreneurs also have that vision, and the ability to do that.
On the other hand, China and the United States are two big technology powers. The United States is good at tech innovation, and China is good at using technology to build products. Our two countries should collaborate to create more value. So I’m a little bit concerned that the United States is not as open as it was.
I asked Zhang to what extent he believes internet censorship has hindered the flow of information in China. He said it’s a problem, because it means China isn’t fully connected to the world of the internet:
It’s really a problem, especially when people are doing research and studies. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s what happens in China. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but at least we are heading in the right direction. For example, every TV show that’s popular in the United States is even more popular in China — we have lots of applications and websites like Tencent that give us access to popular TV shows all over the world, like “Game of Thrones.” Of course they will cut some things, but generally, people can share the experience and thinking behind all of those works. Access to entertainment has brought people from different cultures together on the same page. It’s not like we have all of the information, but at least we have part of it, and it’s step by step in the right direction. But I personally hope it will go faster — it would be better if there was no block, no censorship from the government, and people could access all the information they want.
I followed up by asking Zhang if he believes the day will come when there will no longer be censorship of the internet in China. He laughed and said that’s a political problem, and a political question:
I’m sure the innovators, those geeks in China, will help to accelerate this process. It’s already changing, and going in the right direction. It will take time, but I believe there will be a day when there will be no blocks, and we will get all of the information. That means there will be an even deeper social impact of technology from all of those geeks.
I asked Zhang to what extent corporate espionage has helped China gain technology from other countries, including the United States. He said he’s not in a position to comment on matters that are more government-related, but he did share his views with respect to the tech sector:
From my perspective, I don’t see any Chinese tech company doing such things. What I’m seeing is more and more Chinese companies have their own technology, their own design, their own brand. It’s world-class, like DJI, the world’s most famous drone company. Most people don’t realize it’s a Chinese company, but it is — the headquarters, and all design and manufacturing, is in Shenzhen. It’s the most advanced drone company in the world. Another example is Xiaomi, which builds the perfect smartphone; there’s [Mobvoi’s] Ticwatch smartwatch, which has gotten an investment from Google. So I don’t know where the corporate espionage news comes from, but from my perspective, I see that many Chinese companies are doing their own tech research and innovation, and they’re building great products. That’s what I’m focused on. I think maybe now, it’s time to learn from China — it’s not China copying from the United States. Mobike, for example, which I spoke about before [in the portion of the interview that was covered in the previous post], I believe there are already two or three copycats in the United States, copying the Mobike business model. A U.S. company called Spin, for example, just launched their service at SXSW. They told me themselves that they copied Mobike, because the model is perfect, and they wanted to learn from them. Maybe over the next 10 years there will be a lot of cases like that.
I mentioned to Zhang that I lived in Hong Kong for 10 years throughout the 1990s, and had observed that pirated software in Hong Kong and the rest of China was a huge problem for U.S. software companies. I asked him how rampant software piracy is in China today. He said there are certain areas where it’s still a problem, but it’s much less serious than it was five or 10 years ago:
If you take the games sector as an example, most of the popular games in China are online games. There’s no reason to pirate those games, because multiple people are playing together online. Microsoft used to sue a lot of Chinese companies for using their software without a license. But now, people are using their smartphones. For myself, 90 percent of my work is done on my smartphone — I don’t use any Microsoft products. It’s all built in, like Keynote [presentation app]. The devices, and the way people work and live, are changing. People aren’t using pirated software — they get a better user experience, without spending a lot of money, by avoiding pirated software, especially in the big cities. So there may still be problems in certain areas, but it’s getting better, I believe.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.