China’s “Two Sessions” impact on the Data Centre industry
Published 25 March 2021
Thousands of China’s political, business, and social elite converged in Beijing in March for the country’s most important political event, known as the “two sessions”. The annual gatherings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) serve as a weather vane of China’s politics, revealing the central government’s priorities and plans for the coming year. Especially, this year-2021, it marks the start of the next five-year plan (China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, 2021-2025) and marks the Communist Party’s centenary year.
China has for the first time unveiled an ambitious roadmap for its plans to transform into a world-leading power by 2035, which rest on technological innovation and scientific research. With further strengthening the national strategic scientific and technological strength, data centers as the infrastructure are the foundation to empower the development.
Although the Chinese government has decided to ease restrictions on foreign investments, telecommunication sector for information security purposes remain largely off-limits to foreign investment, e. g. telecom operators must be majority-owned by Chinese firms.
Cybersecurity laws require operators of telecommunication infrastructure to store collected domestic key data and personal information in China. Foreign telecommunication business must therefore store data generated by China-based internet services in China. Regulators have also limited foreign investment in value-added telecommunication services.
On Oct. 21, 2020, China published a draft of the Personal Information Protection Law (Draft). Once formally promulgated, the Personal Information Protection Law, along with the Cybersecurity Law and the Data Security Law, will be the three fundamental data protection laws in China. Though no information has been provided as to a timeline for a revised or final version of the Draft, companies doing business in China are suggested to make necessary preparations wherever possible, considering the PIPL’s potentially wide-ranging impact.
Reforms, Reforms and more Reforms
“To build a new development pattern, we must build a high-level socialist market economy system, implement a high-level opening up, and promote mutual promotion of reform and opening up” is included in one of the eight key tasks in 2021. Under the framework for the overall strategy, China has announced a further opening up of its manufacturing and financial services sectors to foreign investment with the removal of seven items from its so-called “negative list” as part of an annual review.
On June 23, 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Commerce (MOF) jointly issued two “negative lists”, both of which took effect on July 23, 2020. These two negative lists enumerate the industries where foreign investment will either be prohibited or restricted. This is a timely follow-up of the promise made in the 2020 Two Sessions about further relaxing market access for foreign investment.
Now, the “negative list” runs to just 33 items – down from 40 – and is even shorter in China’s designated free-trade zones.
On January 29, 2021, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges stated that in order to improve the supporting rule system for infrastructure public offering REITs and ensure the orderly development of the pilot work, in accordance with the overall work deployment of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges have formulated and issued three major business rules.
These three major business rules are the “Publicly Offered Infrastructure Securities Investment Funds (REITs) Business Measures, Publicly Offered Infrastructure Securities Investment Funds (REITs) Rules Application Guidelines No. 1-Audit Concerns and Public Offering of Infrastructure Securities Investment Funds (REITs) Rules Application Guidelines No. 2-Offering Business. All these will be implemented on trial basis.
The official release of these three rules signifies that the Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchange has made phased progress in promoting the pilot work of infrastructure public offering REITs.
The chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Yi Huiman, mentioned the core task of “increasing the proportion of direct financing.” Infrastructure REITs are one of the direct financing tools. Shenzhen Stock Exchange currently reserves nearly 40 projects in the fields including data centers and industrial parks logistics.
Aiming to finance China’s next phase of development through digital infrastructures, including 5G, data centers, logistics centers for E-commerce, and cross-border digital trade warehouses, etc., Infrastructure REITs is regarded as an important initiative to boom digital economy. China needs innovative and structured financial instruments to share market-based risks and returns between the public and private investors.
Contrary to the Western REITs experience, China’s main goal is to support China’s digital infrastructure building. The plan specifically excluded residential and commercial real estate properties from the REITs, meaning China’s REITs are not designed to finance real estate developments and properties.
Lesson for Big Tech?
China’s antitrust enforcement remained robust in 2020 and is expected to and reach the peak in 2021. The State Administration for Market Regulation (“SAMR”) issued a flurry of new guidelines in the antitrust space that provide more guidance on its enforcement priorities and its interpretation of the law.
This could be a pivotal year.
On February 7, 2021, SAMR issued Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for the Platform Economy Sector (“Platform Guidelines”), which follows a string of actions taken by the Chinese government to regulate the internet platform sector, tightening existing restrictions faced by the country’s tech giants. Most notably, the suspension of the initial public offering by Ant Group.
Recognizing that there are difficulties and enormous discrepancy in applying traditional antitrust enforcement approaches to the platform economy sector, the Platform Guidelines come into being. It is worth mentioning that, the Platform Guidelines acknowledge the complexity of the platform economy and that a market would not necessarily be defined by reference to an undertaking’s basic services. As a result, if the platform is a distinct market or one that involves multiple related markets are took into consideration.
The state supports the innovation and development of platform enterprises, enhances international competitiveness, and supports the common development of public and non-public economies. At the same time, it is necessary to regulate development in accordance with the law and improve digital rules, and prevent the disorderly expansion of capital.
Every year, China’s most notable tech industry leaders are invited to the “two sessions” to help formulate a national vision for the country’s technological development. This year, new proposals from the heads of China’s biggest tech companies, including Tencent, Xiaomi, Baidu and Lenovo Group, seek to address issues such as upgrading digital infrastructure.
China has been ramping up efforts to build out and improve what it calls “new infrastructure”. The broad term applies to a variety of technologies and related areas, including 5G networks, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), high-speed rail and research institutions.
The strategy outlines how China intends to become a leading global innovation engine, catch up to the average income level of developed countries, and display world class strengths in economy, global governance and soft power, as well as green development.
To achieve its goals, China will recalibrate its reform strategy, putting greater emphasis on the quality, rather than quantity, of future growth, with technology innovation and scientific research as key.