Tencent Holdings founder Pony Ma and others from China’s crackdown-rattled internet sector will be absent from China’s key parliamentary sessions this year, delegate lists show.
In their place, representatives from chip firms Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), state-backed Hua Hong Semiconductor and Shandong Youyan Semiconductor Materials will attend the sessions for the first time.
The executives will converge at the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing on Sunday. The 3,000 members will meet for the first NPC meeting since Xi Jinping secured a norm-breaking third leadership term at a congress of the ruling Communist Party last October.
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Change in priorities
The makeup of the nation’s top legislative body signals who lies in Beijing’s good graces. The ultimate barometer of power remains the ruling Communist Party’s 205-member Central Committee, however.
While the body comprises mostly local government officials, it also includes representatives from other sectors.
The new crop of representatives from the tech hardware sector appeared on delegate name lists for the first time this year. It signifies Beijing’s changing priorities as it looks to strengthen is capabilities while Washington cuts off access to cutting edge technology.
Missing tech hotshots
Pony Ma is absent from this year’s list after previously serving two five-year terms. The chief executive of China’s most valuable company has kept a low profile in recent years while rival tech entrepreneurs were targeted by a wide-ranging state crackdown on internet firms and as Xi urged greater scrutiny of the ultra-wealthy.
Tencent did not provide an immediate comment.
Other former darlings of China’s internet scene including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, NetEase founder William Lei Ding and Wang Xiaochuan, founder of search engine Sogou, were also absent from the delegate list of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) after previous inclusion.
However, lower-profile executives from Alibaba and e-commerce giant JD Group are delegates to the CPPCC, a largely ceremonial political advisory body that meets around the same time as the NPC.
Tech hardware self-reliance
Other new NPC delegates come from robotics, laser, aerospace and aeronautics firms.
“The new line-up of the two sessions seems to reveal Beijing’s clear priority to strengthen its technological capacity to achieve self-sufficiency and stay competitive with the United States,” said Angela Zhang, director of the Center for Chinese Law at the University of Hong Kong.
“In the current geopolitical climate, consumer tech businesses are eclipsed by those companies that produce hardcore technologies,” she said.
Delegates for the NPC and CPPCC are chosen every five years by the Communist Party and have the option to resign.
Some veteran tech industry delegates will continue to serve under new five-year terms on the CPPCC including Lei Jun, founder of phone manufacturer Xiaomi, and Zhou Hongyi, CEO of cybersecurity firm Qihoo360.
Liu Qingfeng, head of US-sanctioned artificial intelligence firm iFlyTek, was also selected for another NPC term.
In a speech last month, Xi called for scientific and technological self-reliance, amid growing export curbs on advanced technology, mainly from the United States.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena
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