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Big Tech, Data & the Platform Economy - 18 October 2022

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In many parts of the world, names such as Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have become as recognisable as Google, Amazon and Facebook. The growth of China’s digital economy has risen to comprise almost 40 per cent of its total GDP, which in 2021 was valued at just under $18 trillion USD. Yet in the context of an economy designed to deliver ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ there lies an inherent tension between financial growth and political control.

In April 2022, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party - the Government’s top decision-making body – met to discuss China’s big tech firms and how to manage the ‘healthy development’ of the platform economy. This meeting followed roughly two years of introducing or enforcing stricter regulatory measures to regain governance control over the growth of China’s big tech sector.

These regulatory measures have earned a consistent spot in global news headlines, deemed the Big Tech Crackdown which was precipitated by the Big Tech Boom of exponential growth experienced by e-commerce, internet and technology firms. The growth of this sector has presented the Chinese Government with a complex set of questions relating to antitrust, monopolisation, access and use of data, socioeconomic inequality and ethical retail practices. In this session, our panel of experts will unravel these questions and provide insights into a range of dynamics in the tech sector, including:

  • The role of data and the digital economy for China’s projected growth
  • Trends in China’s business-state relationship, including the tech regulation crackdown
  • The rise of the ‘platform economy’, e-commerce and the ‘influencer’ livestreaming phenomenon
  • China’s start-up & tech entrepreneurship scene and the ‘Jack Ma’ effect
  • The Shenzhen story and the shifts from industry to innovation in China’s star tech cities

About the speakers

Xin Sun, Lau China Institute, King’s College London

Xin Sun is Senior Lecturer in Chinese and East Asian Business. He received his PhD in political science from Northwestern University in 2014. Prior to joining King’s, he held academic positions at the University of Oxford and Trinity College Dublin. He obtained a BA in Chemistry and Economics at Peking University and MA in Economics at Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xin’s research interests include political economy and government-business relations in China, as well as research methodology. He is particularly interested in the interplay between formal and informal institutions in authoritarian regimes and how the two types of institutions jointly shape economic and policy outcomes as well as business behaviours.

His current project focuses on land politics and the housing market in China. He analyses how informal political practices affect property rights institutions and land use and regulatory behaviours. In addition, he also works on topics including private entrepreneurship and local governance in China.

Lianrui Jia, Lecturer in Digital Media & Society, Sheffield University

Lianrui Jia joined the Department of Sociological Studies in 2021. She previously taught and worked at University of Toronto Scarborough as a postdoctoral researcher, funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. She obtained her PhD in Communication and Culture from York University, Toronto, Canada.

Her research interests are platform studies, the political economy of media and media policy and regulation. She is also an Associate Editor for Journal of Digital Media and Policy.

Robyn Vidra, King’s College London

Dr Robyn Klingler-Vidra is Reader in Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at King’s Business School. She is the author of The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia (Cornell University Press, 2018) and Inclusive Innovation (with Alex Glennie and Courtney Savie Lawrence, Routledge, 2022).

Her research focuses on entrepreneurship, innovation, and venture capital and has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals, including International Affairs, New Political Economy and Regulation & Governance.

She has delivered executive education for the LSE, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Tel Aviv University and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and led international studies for the UN Development Programme.

Robyn obtained her BA in Political Science at the University of Michigan and her MSc and PhD in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Yujing Tan, Lecturer, Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University

In her research, Yujing Tan draws on the ethnography of “doing innovation” in the current massive socio-economic transition in urban China. She approaches the emergence of Chinese innovation, a political-economic transition as well as a social movement, from the perspective of sociology and anthropology. Her almost-finished thesis is a result of thirteen-months of fieldwork research in Shenzhen, the borderland established as a “special economic zone” in 1980 that is now being gentrified as an “innovation city.”

Kendra Schaefer, Tech Partner, Trivium

Kendra Schaefer is a partner at Beijing-based strategic advisory consultancy Trivium China. She leads Trivium tech policy research team, keeping investors, companies, and governments briefed on Chinese tech regulation, government data and tech infrastructure projects, and the data and technologies underpinning China’s social credit system. She is chief editor of Trivium’s premium Trivium Tech Daily newsletter, a daily policy brief on Trivium’s analysis on government-driven Chinese tech developments.

Kendra has been in China since 2002. She began her career as a user researcher and developer, building cross-cultural interfaces for foreign firms entering the China market, and moved into consulting on Chinese interfaces and user behavior. She has consulted on over 150 digital projects for both SMEs and multinationals.

Moderator: Arjun Kharpal, Senior Technology Correspondent, CNBC

Arjun Kharpal is CNBC’s Senior Technology Correspondent, based in London. He was previously based in Guangzhou, China where he relocated in 2018 to open up CNBC’s bureau.

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At this event

Xin  Sun

Xin Sun

Senior Lecturer in Chinese and East Asian Business

Robyn Klingler-Vidra

Robyn Klingler-Vidra

Reader in Entrepreneurship & Sustainability


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