Censored and Walled-Off Internet Hurts Chinese Start-Ups
(p. B1) Two decades after Beijing began walling off its homegrown internet from the rest of the planet, the digital world has split between China and everybody else. That has prevented American technology companies like Facebook and Uber, which recently agreed to sell its China operations, from independently being able to tap the Chinese market.
For China's web companies, the divide may have even more significant implications.
It has penned in the country's biggest and most innovative internet companies. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have grown to be some of the world's largest internet companies, but they rely almost entirely on domestic businesses. Their ventures abroad have been mostly desultory, and prognostications that they will challenge American giants internationally have (p. B2) not materialized.
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In many ways, the split is like 19th century railroads in the United States, when rails of different sizes hindered a train's ability to go from one place to another.
"The barrier to entering the U.S. or China market is becoming higher and higher," said Kai-fu Lee, a venture investor from Taiwan and former head of Google China.
The difficulties that China's internet companies face in expanding their success abroad are epitomized by WeChat, the messaging app owned by Tencent.
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Critics pointed to Tencent's lack of distinctive marketing, a record of censorship and surveillance in China and its late arrival to foreign markets. Yet the biggest problem was that outside of China, WeChat was just not the same. Within China, WeChat can be used to do almost everything, like pay bills, hail a taxi, book a doctor's appointment, share photos and chat. Yet its ability to do that is dependent on other Chinese internet services that are limited outside the country.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Tech Firms Forced to Choose Market: Home or Everywhere Else.")