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Duncan Clark, visiting scholar at SPRIE, gave a talk at Stanford on "Life after Google? The way forward for US internet firms and investors in China" on April 13, 2011.

April 14, 2011 - News

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E-commerce, online gaming and social networking benefit from internet boom in China: SPRIE visiting scholar details way forward for US internet firms and investors

Duncan Clark, Visiting Scholar at SPRIE and Chairman/Founder of Beijing-based investment advisory firm BDA China, spoke to a packed room at a seminar titled "Life after Google? The Way Forward for US Internet Firms and Investors in China", hosted by SPRIE, about the appeal and complexities of China's dynamic internet sector. The talk is part of SPRIE's ongoing series of speaker events, seminars and conferences entitled "China 2.0: The Rise of a Digital Superpower".

China's internet population will soon be double that of the US. China is home to a thriving market for social networking, games, e-commerce and other applications. While many individual and institutional investors in Chinese internet firms have profited from this growth, US internet firms themselves have struggled to gain a foothold. In fact a number of the most iconic internet firms in the US - including eBay, Yahoo and Google - have either pulled out of China or significantly scaled back their expectations for the market. Why?
Censorship and government restrictions are often pointed to as the principal cause. Is this justified, or does it sometimes serve as a convenient excuse for other factors such as management missteps?

Certainly Google placed blame squarely with the Chinese government, citing the growing burden of censorship and sophisticated attacks on Gmail as principal motivations for its 2010 decision to scale back its China business. In his 45-minute talk, Clark discussed the implications of Google's move, both for the company (and the benefits to its main competitor Baidu) and for a new wave of US internet companies who are evaluating the market (such as Facebook) or who have recently entered the market (such as Groupon).

Clark explored the psyche driving the Chinese government's approach to internet restrictions and the varying degrees of sensitivity associated with online activities such as social networking, email/IM, games and e-commerce. He also discussed the risks faced by Chinese internet founders/CEOs as they balance the need to serve customers and the stock market with serving the requirements and expectations of the Chinese government and the Communist Party.

The talk reviewed in turn the experience of various US internet companies in China and how elusive the right formula for success can be.

Clark concluded with a discussion of the more positive of US individual and institutional investors. While competitive risks remain substantial, backing Chinese management teams to some extent insulates investors from the vagaries of government regulation. Chinese internet firms such as Baidu, Tencent and Taobao have emerged as some of the world's most highly visited and most valuable sites. Clark explored the questions of how sustainable are their positions in China, and whether these firms can demonstrate an ability to innovate and extend their reach beyond China's shores.

Duncan Clark and Marguerite Gong Hancock, associate director of SPRIE, are continuing their research into these and other topics as part of SPRIE's China 2.0: The Rise of a Digital Superpower project. SPRIE looks forward to the perspectives of upcoming invited speakers as the program keeps apace with the fast growing but unpredictable China internet market.

Topics: Business | Investment | China