Business Travel

Guangzhou’s Hi-Tech Innovation Boom

The capital of China's Guangdong province has been busy setting itself up as one of the Greater Bay Area's hubs for hi-tech innovation

Guangzhou has come a long way since the foreign merchants of old established their fledgling trading operations beside the Pearl river. Today’s population of 14 million makes the capital of Guangdong province one of the world’s largest cities, vying with its neighbours to become the biggest cog in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) machine, a scheme initiated by the Chinese government to link Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and seven adjoining cities into an integrated economic powerhouse.

The city is working overtime to position itself as a centre of innovation in key areas like information technology, artificial intelligence, biomedical science and robotics. In 2017, mayor Wen Guohui announced that Guangzhou will oversee the development of 8,000 new high-tech companies and 200,000 innovative enterprises for science and tech by 2020. 

In the IT sphere, Guangzhou’s new Pazhou Internet Innovation Cluster is being dubbed the city’s own Silicon Valley. Set to cover a vast suburban zone when fully operational, it has already signed up around 20 tech giants, including Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi, to establish regional headquarters there. It is expected to be up and running by 2024, employing approximately 80,000 people.

Other ambitious public works include GE Biotechnology Park, a mega biopharmaceutical project covering 3.75 million square feet in its first phase, which broke ground in June 2017 after an investment of US$800 million from the Guangzhou Development District, General Electric and other companies who plan to operate at the site.

US internet giant Cisco is helping to build a US$3 billion smart city in the Panyu district south of the city, while to the northeast another epic project, the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, aims to house half a million people and foster the growth of hi-tech industrial clusters and advanced industrial materials. 

One of Guangzhou’s chief assets for attracting talent is its quality of living.

In addition to housing many celebrated Cantonese restaurants, Guangzhou is home to more historic and cultural sites than any other nearby city. Meanwhile, it also benefits from cheaper property prices – on average 25 per cent lower than in Shenzhen. The city is also southern China’s transportation hub, and the site of the Canton Fair, the country’s biggest trade event, which is becoming increasingly important as China extends its reach overseas via the ambitious Belt and Road trade initiative.

The Person: He Xiaopeng

He Xiaopeng might be the face of XPeng Motors – Guangzhou’s latest electric vehicle (EV) start-up, which is making waves with its sleek smart cars – but the 41-year-old tycoon is probably better known in China as the co-founder of web browser UCWeb, which is the fourth most-used browser in the world behind Chrome, Safari and Firefox.  

Alibaba acquired UCWeb in 2014, making He a billionaire, and giving him a job as senior executive of the e-commerce giant’s mobile business division. In 2017, He resigned to run XPeng Motors. 

Credit: Illustration: Ryan Chan

XPeng soon raised over US$196 million in capital from major investors, including Foxconn, Alibaba and Xiaomi founder Lei Jun. Thanks to He’s internet background, XPeng’s vehicles, like the latest model P7 unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2019, promise the most advanced autonomous driving system on the Chinese market. The P7 also claims a range of more than 500 kilometres and can go from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in a blazing four seconds.

In a 2018 interview, He admitted he had ploughed some US$1 billion of his fortune into XPeng. When his wife asked whether they would have any money left, his reply was sanguine, if not wholly reassuring: ‘At least we will still have our brains.’

The Product: Ehang 216

The Ehang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) is made from carbon composite material and metals, and powered by 16 electric motors, which are connected to 16 propeller blades in a coaxial double-blade design. With a maximum cruise speed of 130 kilometres per hour and a range of 35 kilometres, it’s likely to be used as a novelty taxi, sightseeing vehicle, ambulance or delivery vessel. Like a regular drone, if the Ehang 216 encounters any system failure or the battery level becomes critical, it will immediately make an emergency landing at the nearest possible location.

The Ehang 216 follows on from an earlier, single-seat model, the Ehang 184. After successful demonstration flights last year, the certification process is underway and there are plans to manufacture 300 units of the twin-seat vehicle in 2020, and 3,000 by 2025.

Credit: Illustration: Ryan Chan

Scheduled to go into production next year, Ehang 216 is the world’s first two-seat AAV for humans. 

The vehicle is created by Guangzhou-based drone manufacturer Ehang and Austria-based aeronautical systems manufacturer FACC. Journeys are programmed into a tablet computer inside the cockpit, and the AAV does the rest, allowing passengers to sit back, relax and pray for a safe arrival. 

Ones To Watch


Despite its Japanese packaging, this innovative, low-cost retailer of lifestyle products is headquartered in Guangzhou. Since its launch in 2011, the brand has opened more than 3,600 stores in dozens of countries.


This industrial robot has a whole slew of functions, including grinding, polishing, stamping and welding. It’s the latest from Guangzhou firm GSK, one of the few robotics companies using only Chinese-made components.


An absorbable brain repair patch created by 3D-bioprinting company Medprin. ReDura was successfully applied to a patient’s brain during surgery at a Beijing hospital earlier this year.

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