A customer interacts with a robot in a self-service area at the Jiujiang Road branch of the China Construction Bank (CCB) in Shanghai on April 12 (XINHUA)
Zhang Danyang, a 28-year-old purchasing agent in Shenzhen, usually starts her day by checking the news and browsing her friends' social media posts on her smartphone in bed after she wakes up. She eats breakfast while streaming TV shows in the background, and goes to work by bus which she pays for via a QR code on a payment app. She rarely brings cash with her anymore since she can pay for almost everything by using her phone.
At work, Zhang contacts customers by e-mail and sometimes attends video conferences. On the weekend, she often plays online games with her friends, some of whom live in different cities in China. When she gets hungry, she orders food via delivery apps, which is usually cheaper than going to restaurants.
From time to time Zhang, a travel enthusiast, writes travel guides about places she has been and shares them on her WeChat blog, hoping for people to see them and benefit from the information. At night she usually falls asleep to the sound of podcasts.
"I'm an ordinary Chinese woman with a career; I cannot go about my day without the Internet," Zhang told Beijing Review, "It is my life, I would rather die than go without it!"
Zhang is not the only one who believes they cannot live without the Internet. According to a report on China's Internet development released in January by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the country's online population hit 772 million by the end of 2017, of whom 40.74 million logged on for the first time last year, up 5.6 percent from a year ago. A total of 753 million Chinese used mobile phones to surf the Internet in 2017, making up 97.5 percent of the online population.
As the Internet industry booms, the government is attaching ever increasing importance to its development. At a national conference on cyber security and informatization held in Beijing on April 20-21, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on people to keenly grasp the historic opportunity for informatization development in a bid to build the country's strength in cyberspace.
A passenger uses quick pay to swipe into the subway with a bank card in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, on December 27, 2017 (XINHUA)
The development of China's Internet industry began in the 1990s and over the last two decades has enjoyed significant advances. Internet infrastructure is a good example, with statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showing that China added 7.05 million km of fiber optic in 2017 alone, extending the total length of the country's cables by 23.2 percent to 37.47 million km.
The CNNIC report says that China's Internet availability rate reached 55.8 percent in 2017, exceeding the global average by 4.1 percentage points. In rural areas, the online population reached 209 million, up by 7.93 million from the end of 2016.
A key speech made by President Xi on April 19, 2016, is now considered a watershed moment in the country's Internet boom. Xi noted that the development of the Internet in China should meet the people's expectations and demands, and that the Internet should also serve as a new growth driver for the Chinese economy.
The growth of the Internet sector has also become an incubator for new business models and activities, which has afforded people living in the country's poorer regions more opportunities to shake off poverty.
"More people in poverty should have access to the Internet. They can use it to sell agricultural products and their children can receive a higher-quality education," Xi said in his 2016 speech while calling for more investment in Internet infrastructure, especially in rural areas, suggesting that online tools and services be used to support poverty alleviation campaigns.
Liushe Village in south China's Guangdong Province is an example of how lives can be improved through online retail after being granted access to information infrastructure. In the past, local products from Liushe were unmarketable due to the village's remoteness. Following the completion of four communication base stations in the space of two years, a 4G wireless network was made available and villagers were able to sell tea via online platforms. In the past year alone, they have sold more than 3,000 kg of tea online, with an annual sales volume of 1.5 million yuan ($238,000). On one occasion, the number of orders in a single day reached 1,423.
Besides improving people's lives, the advancement of the Internet sector has also been a powerful force in the upgrade of the country's economy. New technology and applications have emerged alongside and within the sector such as big data, cloud computing, the Internet of things, 5G networks and artificial intelligence, which have facilitated the transformation of traditional industries and driven the progress of the digital economy.
A report released by the Cyberspace Administration of China during the First Digital China Summit in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, on April 22 claimed that China's digital economy totaled 27.2 trillion yuan ($4.3 trillion) in 2017, accounting for 32.9 percent of national GDP, its 20.3-percent growth substantially outpacing the overall economy, which grew 6.9 percent in 2017.
"China is already more digitalized than many observers appreciate and has the potential to set the world's digital frontier in coming decades," the McKinsey Global Institute said in a recent report titled China's Digital Economy: A Leading Global Force.
The development of the Internet industry has become a national strategy. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) included building strength in cyberspace into the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).
The Outline of the National IT Development Strategy aimed at improving the country's strength in cyberspace was released in 2016. It says that by 2020, key technologies should reach global standards, while the competitiveness of the industry must increase substantially and act as a driving force for modernization. According to the outline, a leading global mobile communication network will be in place by 2025, freeing the country from reliance on overseas technology. Cybersecurity must also be vastly improved, and a number of globally competitive multinational companies are to be established.
At the conference on the work of cybersecurity and informatization in Beijing, Xi reiterated the importance of increasing China's strength in cyberspace.
He said that since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has achieved historic progress in the development of cybersecurity and informatization, formed a model of cyberspace governance with Chinese characteristics, and developed a plan for further advancing the country's strength in this regard.
In order to be strong in this sector, mastering core technology is crucial. Xi stressed that the country will endeavor to achieve breakthroughs in core information technologies, noting that more resources will be directed toward research, industrial development and policy making.
In addition to the government, Internet enterprises also play a major role in technological innovation and cyberspace governance, together with technology communities, non-governmental institutions and individuals.
Tencent Chairman Pony Ma said at the Digital China Summit that Chinese enterprises need to make breakthroughs in core technology and that this need is becoming ever more urgent. "Only with competitive core technology can Chinese companies stand a chance of equal dialogue with global giants."
Jack Ma, founder and Chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, shares the same view, explaining that If Chinese companies don't grasp core technologies, then they are just "building houses on other people's property or planting vegetables on another's land."
Copyedited by Laurence Coulton
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