The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything Chinese companies have experienced. As demand for nonessential consumer goods plummeted, businesses struggled to stay afloat.
But amid the current economic woes, a handful of technology companies are thriving. The millions of people sheltering in place sparked unprecedented surge in online gaming, remote office, e-commerce and e-learning platforms.
Its no surprise that the coronavirus is accelerating the long-term growth of China’s online businesses. During the SARS epidemic, online retailers like Alibaba and JD.com rapidly expanded their consumer bases. Today, they are the largest online retailers in China.
COVID-19 has devastated whole communities in China and across the world. Yet, not all is despair. The disruption has been a catalyst for the tech world, particularly some of China’s biggest names. These companies have also provided valuable technological support in China’s battle with the virus.
A wide variety of Alibaba-owned services have benefited from the increasing digitalization of Chinese society. With hundreds of millions of Chinese kids still stuck at home, the e-learning industry is experiencing soaring growth. The company saw over 50 million students across 30 provinces attend classes on DingTalk, its messaging app, at the beginning of the spring semester.
Students were not the only people working from home. Employees from millions of corporations also began using DingTalk. The apps downloads increased by 356% in February. When the coronavirus is a thing of the past, these DingTalk accounts will continue. Even more important, ordinary people have made a transition to online learning and working that would have taken decades. With this level of transition, China is discussing how these platforms will shape the future of learning and work.
Grocery deliveries have also become even more popular in light of social distancing practices. Grocery orders for Ele.me, Alibaba’s food delivery service, almost doubled in the first two months of the year. The increase in grocery deliveries has allowed other platforms to expand as well. Sales on JD Daojia, a JD.com-backed service, nearly quadrupled between January and February.
Another tech giant that has seen rapid expansion is Tencent. The company specializes in online services, entertainment, artificial intelligence, and technology. Tencent Meeting, the company’s video conference service, recently expanded its capacity by adding 100,000 cloud hosts. Furthermore, the user base of Tencent’s WeChat Work soared 171% at the start of 2020.
Tencent has also contributed to the efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. Not only did the company allocate 300 million yuan to a prevention and control fund, but WeChat, its subsidiary, has also created a heat map that shows diagnoses and provides public health information.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to increased Internet connectivity demands. The result. Huawei, a telecommunications company, has accelerated China's 5G network.
Like Tencent, Huawei has used its technological prowess to contribute to China’s public good. For example, the company lent its 5G services and equipment to Huoshenshan Hospital, an emergency field hospital constructed in Wuhan in response to the outbreak. In collaboration with other tech firms, Huawei has also helped diagnose coronavirus cases and research a vaccine.
China’s virtual spaces were rapidly expanding even before the coronavirus appeared. Over the past few months, the eruption of COVID-19 has entrenched the role of China’s tech giants in peoples’ daily lives.
But Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei are not simply reaping the benefits of increased online activity. By donating money and technology, providing support to health care workers and allowing hundreds of millions of people to continue their academic and professional careers, these companies have demonstrated a considerable social responsibility.