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How China Threatens to Splinter the Metaverse

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When Mark Zuckerberg In October 2021, Facebook announced that it would be changing its name to Meta Platforms, a news that made waves outside of Silicon Valley. It also became a hot topic in China overnight, sparking a heated debate among founders, investors and their companies.

It’s no surprise that the idea of ​​a metaverse has excited the Chinese tech community. Every few years an overarching theme emerges, pooling talent and capital. The ability to ride these waves, or better control and shape them, equates to the ability to capture wealth. The Metaverse promises to explore and conquer the world beyond the smartphone, an opportunity to surpass the giants that dominate mobile computing today.

Even on a personal level, I have watched countless classmates and friends over the years get hooked on cycles like this, chasing investment bubbles in real estate and private equity, and serving as government officials before starting their own businesses. In tech, the investment thesis has grown in just a few years from desktop-based social media and gaming to mobile messaging to online-to-offline services, and now Metaverse. Ma Huateng, the reclusive chairman and co-founder of Chinese technology group Tencent Holdings, has been one step ahead.

Ma Huateng presides over an entertainment and social media empire comparable in size to Meta, and in fact, just months before Zuckerberg announced the company’s name change, Ma publicly laid out his vision for something very similar to the Metaverse . Ma Huateng calls it the “Full True Internet”, which means “Full True” Internet. The concept, though vaguely defined, includes the use of the web to converge manufacturing and work, and overlaps with many aspects of the Facebook co-founder’s vision. But this iteration could yield very different results, as it was born under Beijing’s watch from day one.

“MetaveRse” debuts as a word in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 novel avalanchewhich paints a picture of a world plagued by hyperinflation.

Stephenson envisioned a world based on anarcho-capitalism. Like all cyberpunk literature, the story is underscored by a strong anti-authoritarian tone. Assuming the Chinese government sees the merits of this technology, the virtual world in the future may be split into two: China and the rest of the world. Like the internet, the world’s second-largest economy may protect its netizens from other virtual worlds around the world.

China’s internet industry has grown to the size it is today in part because the government maintains a loose lead while hiding it behind the Great Firewall. The country is more focused on controlling gas, oil, telecommunications, finance and traditional media. Almost unhindered, Western capital and local entrepreneurs found opportunities in communist China to devise a scheme that combined global capital and technology with the world’s largest population.

The Metaverse will be a different story. While local government officials in cities like Shanghai appear to embrace the concept and announce their intention to encourage its use in public services, social entertainment, gaming and manufacturing, others are far less optimistic. Ren Zeping, a Chinese economist, points to the dangers of the virtual world, blaming it as a possible drop in marriage and fertility rates — the logic being that if people are busy entertaining themselves in the virtual world, they don’t need to seek connections in the real world. one.



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