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China’s ‘copycat’ tech industry being copied

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Global tech companies are modelling apps after their Chinese counterparts

China's "copycat" tech industry is being copied by tech companies in the United States, Japan and Indonesia, a recent report has found.

Increasingly, Facebook's Messenger, Japanese messaging app Line and Indonesia's ride-hailing app Gojek are adding more services to their platform, moving towards the model of Chinese messaging platform Wechat and mobile payment app Alipay, said China Internet Report 2019 released last week.

The annual report also noted that social credit - a system in which people and businesses are given scores to reflect their trustworthiness - is becoming a reality in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people, with local governments rolling out their own schemes ahead of a 2020 deadline.

Other top trends it highlighted include China's race to implement 5G as well as its mass deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) in such areas as access control, surveillance and smart city solutions.

The report, created by venture capitalist Edith Yeung, is co-authored by Hong Kong media company South China Morning Post and its sister site Abacus.

The report found China and the US operate in two separate technology ecosystems, each with its own key players that range from search to social media and ride-sharing to home-sharing.

In China, tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have built their own ecosystems, while newer entrants such as news and content platform Toutiao, e-commerce Meituan-Dianping and ride-hailing app Didi are strengthening their core businesses.

The report noted that the Internet penetration rate in China is 60 per cent, which works out to almost three times the number of Internet users in the US.

The gap is wider when it comes to mobile payments, it added.

At 583 million users, "there are more people who make payments with their phones in China than there are people in the US", it said.

But what is striking is how tech firms such as Facebook, Line and Gojek are taking a leaf out of their Chinese counterparts' playbook in transforming their apps into super apps.

These super apps are a one-stop shop for services such as messaging, shopping, ride-hailing and mobile payments.

One new development that looks set to be a buzzword this year is China's social credit system.

It ranks citizens according to their trustworthiness, relying "on a series of rewards and punishments meant to encourage people and businesses to abide by rules".

"In reality, there is no central scoring system but a patchwork of different schemes and apps with differing criteria across provinces, cities and villages," it said.