In a see-through soundproof chamber, a young Nigerian was selling colourful sportswear to his American customers via a Chinese livestreaming platform.
Booths away, two Pakistanis were using Chinese mobile payment apps to get bags of Kopi Luwak from an Indonesian trader. Right next door, a crowd of Finns were grooving to a piano piece played live by a Chinese-designed robot.
These were not at all unusual sights for the participants in the second Global Digital Trade Expo running from Nov. 23-27 in eastern China's Hangzhou city, an event China has recently announced would be held annually so that people around the world could gather around more often and benefit from China's dedication to a high-standard opening-up.
From the debuts of avant-garde products and services to the inking of business deals, and to all the forums and roundtables organized in the meantime on digital economy, the five-day expo attracting people from 63 countries and regions bore witness to not only the unique advantages of China's digital trade development, but also its contribution to building an open world economy and improving global economic governance.
A "remarkable" pace
"All the solutions that we have seen in this expo are impressive," Director of the Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions World Congress Marc Tarrago said when recalling some of the Chinese products and services he saw during the digital trade event, like surgery robots with delicate mechanical arms, VR logistics machines that can be applied at seaports, and satellite connectivity solutions.
But there is much more. To the Spaniard, the expo in Hangzhou was not the first time he felt amazed by China's efforts and progress in digital economy.
"I have been in China twice during the last month. I have visited technological parks, companies ... I think we have seen a lot of really good solutions," he told Xinhua.
"I remember one big solution about energy in (China's city of) Wuxi. It was really amazing because you can see the real-time consumption of electricity in all the provinces. We don't have this kind of solution in Europe," he said, calling the expo "completely necessary" to show the world what Chinese companies have achieved in digital technologies and how China plays a "crucial part" in the global digital economy.
Cutting-edge models at the expo designed by Chinese companies, such as virtual spoken language coaches tailoring teaching to individual needs, MR glasses helping create immersive virtual shopping experiences, and supercharging technology securing full charges of electric vehicles within 30 minutes provided a rough overview of China's digital economy, which now ranks second in the world in terms of overall scale.
According to a report on China's digital trade development released at the expo, in 2022, the country's digitally-delivered service trade value rose 3.4 percent year-on-year to 372.71 billion U.S. dollars, accounting for around 9 percent of the global total, while the import and export scale of cross-border e-commerce totaled around 296.3 billion dollars, expanding 9.8 percent year-on-year.
China ranked 11th on the Global Innovation Index 2022 released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, up 23 places from its 2012 ranking. Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp (IDC) predicted in May that China's artificial intelligence (AI) market will exceed 26 billion dollars by 2026.
"In this country, the pace of digitization has indeed been remarkable ... For our companies, China's vast digital economy offers significant opportunities to develop new products and services advancing digital trade," said Finnish Ambassador to China Leena-Kaisa Mikkola.
"China's emphasis on research and development, coupled with the nurturing of their own technology giants, has led to breakthroughs in areas like AI and e-commerce, influencing the trajectory of the global digital economy," said Nairobi-based technology expert Mbugua Njihia.
"China is definitely a global leader in digital technologies and on the whole, digital economy," said Chyngyz Sherniiazov, official representative in China of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kyrgyzstan.
Going digital together
For the past few days, Thulisile Dlamini would always arrive before 9:00 a.m. at her booth set up within the stand of South Africa -- one of the guest countries of honor for this year's expo. In a sharp black suit and with a neat short haircut, the woman would greet all passersby with a big smile.
Dlamini was born in Soweto, a township near Johannesburg. Priced out of higher education, she started working at the age of 17. She then managed to stay in Europe for two and a half years before returning home and trying to find a job in technology with her high school qualification.
"And that's when I realized how many of the young people like myself don't know about technology," she told Xinhua.
Dlamini started her own company, Ikusasa Technology Solutions, in 2016, to provide information and communication technology (ICT) training and consulting services to young South Africans, especially in rural areas where things are, as she said, "far back."
Taking one step further, she came to China this time to engage in exchanges and obtain partnerships on ICT training, which has become increasingly necessary with the rise of the global digital economy.
"I've met people here willing to actually bring some of our South African youth to China for ICT training ... I've already sought opportunities with some of the Chinese people based in South Africa. If it wasn't for the expo, I wouldn't get there," she said.
In fact, there have been more "Dlaminis" worldwide already on board the Chinese train of digital economy cooperation, through which China is transforming the digital economy into a new engine for common development.
A Silk Road e-commerce development report published during the expo showed that as of October, China has "established bilateral e-commerce cooperation mechanisms with 30 countries across five continents," and has "signed memoranda of understanding with 20 nations, aiming to enhance collaboration in developing the Digital Silk Road." It has also conducted digital economy collaborations within such multilateral frameworks as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, leading to more international agreements.
"Collaborative effort among all countries is essential to establish and uphold a multilateral system for the digital economy, further advancing the rule of law and achieving shared prosperity ... A good example of such cooperation is provided by the active engagement of China," Anna Joubin-Bret, secretary of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, told Xinhua.
"China is eager to share its knowledge and products (on digital economy) with others. Embracing the idea of a global community for a shared future, China considers the success of both Chinese and non-Chinese firms equally important," said Lee Pei May, a political expert at the International Islamic University Malaysia, adding that "developing countries have been the biggest beneficiaries."
Meeting the need of the hour
"Digital trade is booming, but it also faces multiple challenges, one of the most urgent being the lack of global rules for cross-border digital trade," Zhang Xiangchen, deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), cautioned in his speech at the opening ceremony of the expo -- with every good cause.
According to the IDC forecast, 40 percent of the total revenues of Global 2000 companies will come from digital products, services and experience by 2026. Surfing that wave needs an open, inclusive, fair and non-discriminatory environment, which has not yet formed globally.
To ensure the benefits of a digital economy reach every corner of the world effectively and without bias, China has not only taken measures to promote a higher-level opening-up in this field, but has also been helping improve global economic governance, such as via joining and initiating dialogues on standards, policy, regulation and ethics.
China has reduced its negative lists for foreign investment access by more than 80 percent since 2013, has been working on jointly building a community with a shared future in cyberspace with other countries starting from as early as 2015, and proposed multiple initiatives to promote the formulation of global digital governance rules.
In 2020, China and another 14 Asia-Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest free trade pact fully effective in June this year to support an open, free, fair, inclusive and rules-based multilateral trading system, and has promoted cooperation on digital trade among RCEP members. It was also keen to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement.
Besides, China confirmed in 2019 in a joint statement with another 75 WTO members an intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce, and has since proposed nine "Chinese solutions" regarding more than 20 issues, including digital payment and logistics services. It has also played a constructive role during the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference held last year in pushing forward the agreement on extending the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.
Moreover, it is worth remembering that China has organized seminars during this expo inviting global politicians and experts to sit around the same table and discuss global regulations for digital economy, which, to both Secretary-General of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization Kamalinne Pinitpuvadol and Deputy Secretary-General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law Gerardine Goh Escolar, was "a milestone" and a "forward-looking move" in furthering deliberations for framing international rules, regulations and orders for the global economy.
The global trading system is facing tremendous pressure and must adapt to new developments in the world economy, where digitization has become a powerful engine for trade, said Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Mathias Cormann at the expo.
China plays a crucial role in helping address such pressure, he added.
Video reporters: Song Lifeng, Xu Zhongzhe, Xia Liang; video editors: Zhang Yucheng, Mu Xuyao, Zhou Sa'ang