Digital Leadership: China

We are witnessing a rise of the Rest in the world, not necessary a decline of the West.

Kaiser Kuo is a Chinese-American writer, rock musician, Internet technology watcher and cultural commentator. He is Director of International Communication at China's largest search engine, Baidu.com—the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 index. 

Reflecting back on the arrival of the Internet, Kaiser Kuo remembers: “I directly understood the moment it hit me that it was going to be absolutely transformational, and that the Internet would have a tremendous effect on my own life and that of everybody else in the world. Especially when the first browsers came out in the late 90s I knew I would never want to work in any other industry.” This passion for the Internet was almost enough reason not to want to return to China in 1996, because at that time Internet in China was still hard to access, and if you found a connection, it was extremely slow. However things change fast in China, and in 1999 the industry started to boom. Kaiser began working for an Internet company and would become a leading voice in the industry during the decade that followed. 

In Western media, the aspect of China’s censorship in the Internet landscape is always mentioned. What is your view of the role that censorship plays in the industry?
“I think the Western media are focussing too much on the aspects of censorship. Okay, there is censorship and it costs the Chinese companies a lot of time and money to development tools and systems to keep the company running within the Chinese law. But there is so much more happening here. China has some very interesting Internet companies such as Ten Cents and Baidu, where a lot of new things are being developed and created.” 

China today has a huge and very dynamic Internet market. Can we expect Chinese companies to play a leading role worldwide in this industry soon?
“I would say this will be long-term. There are already innovations coming from China, but these innovations are mostly small improvements on what is already there. Radical innovations in ICT might still take about ten years. However, having said this, with Baidu, we are now working hard on a concept we call ‘box computing’ that we believe will change the core of the way in which we use computers and other communication applications such as mobile phones. It is our goal to be a well-known brand in about 50% of the world within the coming ten years. We are investing outside of China, mostly in countries with lower direct competition. We believe that for Baidu, the coming years there will still be a lot of growth within China itself. Only just little more than 30% of the Chinese people are using the Internet now. Our domestic market is still the most dynamic in the world.”  

Before actually joining the Internet industry as a professional, you were a professional musician for three years. What does music mean to you?
“I believe everyone should have a very clear sense of their ‘avocation’ and their ‘vocation.’ With this I mean the difference between activities that are satisfying for you on a personal level and the activities that are satisfying your academic and financial needs. I need both in my life. If, as in many cases, these two things are not the same, it is important to be clear about it to yourself, to be able to make it work effectively. So you can still do both, as I am doing myself by combining my music and writing with a career in the Internet industry.” 

Do you consider yourself to be Chinese or American?
“I feel I am both. And this gives me the chance to understand and use both cultural traditions, and motivates me to write and make podcasts commenting on China’s rise that we experience in the world today. I do this both as an independent writer and in my work for Baidu. We are witnessing a rise of the Rest, not necessary a decline of the West in the world.”

Bas Overtoom, Program Director at Shanghai (b.overtoom@debaak.nl) www.debaak.com/china


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