Widespread development of smart cities in China is edging closer
Matteo Giovannini


Editor's note: Matteo Giovannini is a finance professional at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Beijing and a member of the China Task Force at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

In recent years everyone has become aware of that fact that we live in an extremely dynamic business environment where technological advancement does not take any rest and where being in a leading position today does not necessarily guarantee long-term success.

China's relentless aspiration to turn itself into a technological powerhouse, supported by the presence of a large amount of talent and capital as well as by the release of ad-hoc government policies, represents the most significative example on how to navigate in today's market context and to lay the foundation for a sustainable development.

Late this week the Chinese government has announced, in a joint statement of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, that six cities have been designated "as the first group of pilot cities for a coordinated development of smart city infrastructure and intelligent connected vehicles."

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Changsha and Wuxi represent the selected pool of testing places where the future of innovation in mobility and autonomous vehicles is going to be implemented, after their applications have been reviewed and approved by a group of experts in the field.

The most evident aspect to underline in this decision is that the move represents an important acceleration from the successful implementation of the Hangzhou City Brain, a system designed by Alibaba in 2016 that leverages artificial intelligence for the improvement of traffic congestion.

In this sense, China is demonstrating its commitment to move forward in an industry segment where the country is already an undisputed global leader with more than half of the world's smart city pilot programs. At the same time the decision represents a concrete attempt to improve the quality of people's life in terms of mobility, shopping experience, ways of communication and access to financial services.

A crucial element in the implementation of the announced pilot testing is constituted by the request from the central government of a major involvement of provincial departments of the two ministries that are expected to provide strong guidance and supervision.

In my view this is an extremely important aspect because the two ministries could teamwork focusing their efforts on their specific areas of competence. In particular, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology could monitor the advancement of "hard" factors such as building the infrastructure, processing and analyzing big data, while the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development could focus on "soft" elements such as the reduction of the gap in urban-rural development and the promotion of a high-quality development.

Artificial intelligence applied in cities. /VCG

Artificial intelligence applied in cities. /VCG

Another relevant factor to consider is that each city involved in the program is not going to perform an insulated and independent pilot testing but, on the contrary, it will be incentivized to cooperate and integrate its effort with the rest of the cities involved. This aspect will certainly lead to a higher degree of efficiency, to the possibility of transferring skills and best practices among urban agglomerations, and to a better utilization and allocation of available resources within the cities' surrounding territories.

In addition, I believe it is valuable to notice that even though the selected cities belong to the rich eastern coast of the country their technological development and integration could potentially pave the way for a future involvement of urban centers located in central and eventually in remote provinces of China. In this regard, the technological advancement of first tier cities are set to serve as a bridge for lifting less developed areas of China and for guaranteeing a more balanced development of the country.

In order to reach the goal of a more homogeneous development process it is of paramount importance the full cooperation of both public and private sectors, due to the large amount of data managed by the latter, in order to guarantee that all the necessary resources are channeled in the same direction and for the same purpose. The immediate outcome from a coordinated approach of each stakeholder is that the valuable experience of one city could be easily replicated and promoted in the rest of the country with unlimited opportunities in terms of social and economic progress.

If China will demonstrate to the rest of the world to be able to successfully implement the smart city development model within its own border, then the next natural step is the cross-border implementation of a similarly coordinated pilot testing in countries that belongs to the so-called Digital Silk Road.

It is part of China's DNA to be a forward-looking country, due to the large number of innovations, scientific discoveries and inventions that it has provided to the rest of the world over several centuries. In these terms, the implementation of smart cities could be just another item within an already very long list of contributions to global development.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at

Search Trends