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Made in China: The new innovation drive

China is hot on the heels of some advanced economies with dramatic innovations

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Ascendas OneHub GKC is located in the core of Guangzhou Knowledge City.

THE ubiquitous 'Made in China' label, once synonymous with manufacturing, assembly lines and clever replication, is rapidly being made to symbolise a new era of indigenous Chinese innovation. Sunway TaihuLight could be the latest to exemplify this. The Chinese-made supercomputer, built using Chinese chip technology, was announced in June to have superseded its predecessor as the world's fastest supercomputer.

Indeed, China is closing in on many advanced economies with innovations that are making waves domestically and overseas. Baidu for example, is responsible for the self-driven BMW Baidu cars that ply Chinese streets, and smart bikes that accomplish a range of functions from monitoring users' health to route mapping on smartphones.

Much of this innovation-driven progress can be attributed to structural reforms that promote research, knowledge and technology transfer; and policies geared towards encouraging opportunity-driven, rather than needs-driven innovation. Both the central government and individual enterprises have been advocating less reliance on foreign knowledge and more on fostering their own intellectual property, especially in capital-goods and high-technology sectors.

In this race to become an innovation-driven economy, China has been gearing its efforts towards one critical reorientation: moving past a growth model centred on the imports of technologies and expertise, economising designs and manufacturing processes. It is now seeking to build its own technical skills and knowledge, develop its own software, design products higher up the value chain using entirely new technologies, and bettering its supply chain management.

The building of China's knowledge economy is an uphill task, and the country is aware that it must futureproof this progress by looking into key areas such as talent, research and environment. The pace of innovation across the nation may have quickened, but this momentum should not be curtailed.

The key therefore to unlocking China's full innovation potential and ensuring a successful transition, lies in developing their own quality science and technology, providing an education that will help China meet the demands for a highly-skilled workforce in the future, and creating an environment and ecosystem that are conducive and will support innovative pursuits.

Driving this impetus is the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), a large-scale, integrated smart city project led by Ascendas-Singbridge Group. Jointly developed together with the local government, Guangzhou Development District, SSGKC provides a unique landscape that seamlessly combines the nimbleness of a private entity with the institutional support from the local government.

Although only in its sixth year since inception, the 123-sq-km SSGKC has seen rapid developments within its startup area, not only in terms of basic infrastructure, but more importantly, the nurturing of an ecosystem to promote the growth of startups and high-technology enterprises.

Focusing on knowledge, learning and smart city technologies, SSGKC will become a means of developing China's knowledge industry and catalysing Guangdong's economic restructuring success. The development will feature business parks, residential, commercial, recreational and public amenities such as neighbourhood centres, amid lush greenery. With a development period of more than 20 years, SSGKC will eventually support a 500,000-strong community and provide close to 300,000 job opportunities.

SMART TECHNOLOGY

As China's economy moves up the innovation value chain, smart technology has become a key national policy to help drive China's rapid urbanisation, where hundreds of government-led smart city pilot projects are being implemented across China. In this regard, local industry players have called upon the Chinese government to work with international institutes to establish smart city standards to promote best practices and drive further innovation in the industry.

Singapore has made significant progress in setting up standards, frameworks and environment that help to pave the way for a smart city, as part of its Smart Nation initiative. In the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, Singapore has been recognised as having the best intellectual property protection in Asia, based on the infrastructure and incentives put in place by the Singapore government to encourage innovation and emerging industries. Singapore was also ranked the best-performing Asian country in the Global Innovation Index 2015, an index published by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Organisation (WIPO) .

Positioned as the knowledge and innovation centre for surrounding industry clusters in the economically dynamic region, SSGKC will draw from Singapore's experience in creating an integrated and conducive ecosystem for smart technologies and innovation to flourish. Adopting an integrated and holistic approach, SSGKC has identified four core areas of smart city technologies as economic pillars to its ecosystem. The four economic pillars will be supported by intellectual property rights protection and services that will act as a common enabler to the technologies. The support from institutions and government, in areas of talent development, capital solutions, as well as policies and incentives, will then form the undermost layer of foundation upon which the enabler and the pillars are being built.

This holistic approach is aligned with SSGKC's goal to be an attractive base for Singapore and foreign companies seeking to serve the needs of China and South-east Asia, while at the same time serving as a launch pad for local Chinese companies seeking to internationalise, and providing a home for global talent and skilled manpower. With residents and enterprises expected to move into SSGKC by end 2016, Ascendas-Singbridge has already started working with the local government to formalise institutional support to meet the needs of SSGKC's first-movers.

A smart city is fuelled by the availability of a diverse talent pool, and SSGKC is gaining strides in sustaining a constant flow of talent and expert knowledge. Collaborations with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University are underway, with the setting up of the Sino-Singapore International Joint Research Institute (JRI) and the Centre of Excellence for Software Transfer (CREST) in SSGKC. The JRI focuses on research that will translate into technological advances for Guangzhou City and Guangdong Province. In its initial phase, the JRI will look into research areas including next-generation electric vehicles and intelligent urban transportation systems; nutrition and food sciences; as well as biomedical materials and medical instruments. CREST, another initiative by NTU, will then look into providing a platform for training and exchange.

Works are also in progress to develop a comprehensive financial ecosystem that can support the sustainable development of enterprises, help address the capital needs of micro enterprises, as well as mature companies looking for growth capital, and to encourage mentorship and exchanges.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Recognising the importance of a robust IP rights regime in driving innovation and creativity, SSGKC is committed to creating the right environment for the development and protection of intellectual property.

Leveraging the collaboration between the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO), SSGKC is set to become a demonstration zone for Singapore-China's collaboration in areas related to intellectual property. IPOS' newly-opened representative office at SSGKC will contribute to the development of a joint demonstration zone, increase bilateral exchanges, and attract intellectual property service providers to locate in the SSGKC.

The Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court, which is established to handle intellectual property litigation, and the Patent Examination Cooperation Center of the State Intellectual Property Office, Guangdong Office, have also commenced construction in SSGKC.

The establishment of a strong foundation, with the intellectual property regime serving as a common enabler, will consequently lead up to the four economic pillars identified: eServices, eMobility, eHealth and eNergy Management. Latest technologies under these four pillars can be developed and implemented within SSGKC to serve the needs of a smart city ecosystem.

Under eServices, public services management platforms can be built with Big Data and cloud computing via the Internet. These platforms can be explored to help manage and plan resources for the maintenance of public amenities, as well as facilitation of business-to-consumer e-commerce activities.

Under eMobility, provisions for the use of electric and hybrid cars are being looked into as part of efforts to promote sustainable living. Information and communications technology, electronic sensor and modulation technology will be employed for a smart transportation system to achieve traffic efficiency.

SSGKC will also look into addressing the key challenges of an ageing population through the provision of smart solutions for healthcare facilities and amenities. eHealth-related innovation clusters could potentially be developed to explore clinical trials, medical equipment and R&D.

For eNergy Management, SSGKC aims to work towards becoming a low carbon emission city through the use of clean and alternative energy. Smart building management systems will be explored to optimise energy and water efficiency. Efforts will also be focused on renewable energy solutions and the enforcement of green building standards.

In all, the view is that the availability of talent, capital solutions, policies and incentives will form the foundations to help sustain the four economic pillars critical to the SSGKC smart cities technology ecosystem. Guangzhou is building this model environment that will catalyse economic transformation and job creation, continue to attract and cultivate the right communities and ecosystems, support urbanisation needs, and enrich the lives of the communities.

When completed, this will become a virtuous cycle which will foster the development of an ecosystem supportive of new technologies and business models, and in turn, will bring about sustainable growth. Guangzhou could very well offer a glimpse into the future of China.

  • This article is contributed by Ascendas-Singbridge