From 5G to data centres… China's $3.8tr investment roadmap for digital infrastructure

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China is expecting over the next five years to top more than CNY27.1 trillion (US$3.78 trillion) in new infrastructure construction and related investments, according to Haitong Securities.

Infrastructure developments are expected to total CNY10 trillion ($1.4 trillion) whilst generating related investments of CNY17.1 trillion ($2.38 trillion).

In 2020, as much as CNY3 trillion ($423 billion) are to be invested already in new projects, benefiting 5G base stations, data centres, industrial internet, artificial intelligence, new energy vehicle charging infrastructure, and intercity high-speed rail network.

The figures include several projects already in the public domain, namely Tencent’s $70 billion data centres, cloud and AI investment, Alibaba’s $28 billion cloud infrastructure expansion roadmap,  China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom’s combined $25.2 billion 5G base stations deployment projects, and more.

Cities and regions across China have also voiced their intention to heavily invest in the digitalisation of their infrastructure. As many as 20 provincial-level regions have unveiled plans with Shanghai planning to spend around $37.7 billion in the next three years.

The investment announcements come at a time when China’s tech sector is undergoing a nationwide stimulus very much driven by China’s very own tech moguls.

The most recent show of an industry “tech-push” was at the Two Sessions, China’s most important political event comprising of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

One of the key calls came from Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, Tencent’s founder and NPC deputy, who released a seven suggestions manifesto on how to advance China’s economy, including four points solely focused on technology.

In one of the suggestions, Ma said: “The proposal states that China’s digital economy is moving towards a new era in which new infrastructure is the strategic cornerstone, data is the key element, and industrial Internet is the advanced stage. The Industrial Internet should be planned in the historical tide of a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation and promoted from the height of national strategy to continuously strengthen China’s digital economy.”

He continued to say that China needs to strengthen the top-level design, formulate a national strategy to systematically promote the development of the industrial Internet, and focus on the research and promotion of new infrastructure, digital transformation in all walks of life, smart cities, scientific research and innovation, and network information security.

Ma proposed to accelerate the advancement of new infrastructure such as cloud computing and build a “strategic cornerstone for the development of the digital economy” including a focus on and breakthrough in the construction of a “data centre” to further promote the open sharing of data, innovate and promote the construction of smart cities and villages, and improve digital governance level.

On a different point titled “Suggestions on Using Digital Technology and Innovative Application Models to Help Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises”, Ma said that financial and tax support is an important means to help enterprises get out of the predicament, and digital technologies represented by big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence can also help small and medium-sized enterprises.

He said: “In the near term, new models such as “human labour on the cloud” and “shared labour” can alleviate the difficulties faced by small, medium and micro enterprises, increase their ability to resist risks, and unblock the “capillaries” of the economic market; strengthen the digital upgrade of financial services and enhance financial The accuracy of the service will help the small and medium-sized enterprises “last mile”.

“In the medium and long term, strengthening the cloud platform and promoting the comprehensive digital upgrade of traditional small and medium-sized enterprises will help to enhance the overall strength of small and medium-sized enterprises.”

The other two points on technology focused on improving the level of China’s financial technology and actively responding to international competition and challenges in the context of financial opening, and promoting system and technology innovation, improving medical and health services, and increasing the gain of medical staff.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has also recently unveiled a new roadmap for the way infrastructure is managed in the country by diving it into three areas including information-based infrastructure, converged infrastructure, and innovative infrastructure that supports scientific research, technology development and product development.

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