Culture is vital for the Belt and Road Initiative, Li Tao, a veteran in the internet industry and CEO of mobile internet startup APUS, said suggesting internet companies pay more attention to this when exploring foreign markets.
The Belt and Road Initiative is not just about production capacity and capital, but most importantly about culture, said Li, who leads a fast-growing company which provides a user system on Android mobile phones globally, seeing more than one billion users in the past three years. Before founding the company, Li worked as vice-president of China’s biggest internet security company Qihoo 360.
“China’s strong production ability makes it possible [for companies] to provide better products and services not only for the country itself but also for the vast emerging markets,” Li said in an interview with China Daily Website.
The capital strength the country has accumulated over the past several decades of steady and high-speed growth cannot be used only for the economic development in China but also for emerging countries along the Belt and Road, he added.
“However, if China wants to be a country that has a leading position in the world, it must encompass culture in the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, China’s trade with economies along the Belt and Road Initiative saw 26.2 percent growth year-on-year in the first quarter of 2017.
During the same period, China’s non-financial outbound direct investment in 43 economies along the Belt and Road reached $2.95 billion, accounting for 14.4 percent of the country’s total.
Since 2014, China has launched a series of cultural events including the Silk Road International Arts Festival, the Marine Silk Road International Arts Festival and the Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo to promote cultural communication among Belt and Road countries.
The Ministry of Culture released an action plan for cultural development along the Belt and Road in January this year. With the action plan, China will improve the international cooperation mechanism for the cultural industry and step up the development of the Silk Road Cultural Industry Belt.
“In today’s world, when we talk about the ‘cultural Belt and Road’, or cultural integration, we cannot bypass the internet, for whatever we regard it, as a medium, a technology, or an industry, the internet, in nature, has strong cultural attributes,” Li said.
The content that runs on the internet has strong cultural features. Therefore, internet companies operating globally must pay attention to local conditions and localize the content and services, he said.
“The most valuable things Chinese internet companies can bring with while going global are mature products and technologies, capital and business models, but as we are doing so, we must take into account the religious, and legal, political and cultural factors,” Li said.
APUS has focused on going global ever since it was founded in 2014. It started to work in the Indian market in 2015 and has achieved solid results, with products well received there. The company also set up a 3 billion rupee ($45 million) fund in India that same year.
Another market APUS focuses on is Indonesia, where it has invested in the market’s biggest Wi-Fi connect service provider Zoomy.
“Emerging markets are expected to experience leap-frog development in the internet industry, skipping the personal computer era to the mobile era.” said Li.
“This does not mean that developed markets are not our consideration. On the contrary, we place a lot of attention on North America and Europe, where there are high-end users who add more value than those from emerging market,” he added.
The company invested in LoopMe, the largest video platform company from UK. “The collaboration is generating a positive result, both in terms of the user acquisition and the ad profit,” said Li.
The mainstay business models in emerging markets will develop from the current internet traffic entrance-based models, to content-based models in 2017 to 2020, and then the high-speed growth of localized commercial services, he said.
Li attributed the company’s fast growth in the past two years to its traffic entrance model, where it provides easy access to the internet for users and generates revenue from the traffic.
Now the company is in its second stage where it is more important to work with local companies and provide more localized content and services. To prepare for the future era of cloud-end services, the company is working to build its own big data center.
"For people engaged in the internet industry, the Belt and Road Initiative came at a right time, "Li said.
Chinese internet companies are at a point when they must go global, and the Belt and Road Initiative has pointed to the right direction and created a conducive external environment, said Li.