China’s stated intent to be the world’s smart city technology leader in five years is certainly ambitious. It also seems to be a matter of necessity for the country.
As readers know, people are moving from rural and other outlying areas into the world's larger cities at an ever-increasing rate -- a trend expected to continue for at least another 10 years.
While city officials in the U.S. decide whether or how to commit to a smart cities upgrade to help them maintain and improve existing services to meet the demands of a growing population, smart city technology in China is national policy, and an extremely important one. As Dr. Shan Zhiguang, director for the State Information Center's Informatization Research Department told the Asia-Pacific Smart City Development Forum in Shenzhen recently, the policy is guiding the country's rush to urbanization.
"Form now to 2020, over 100 million Chinese people are moving into cities from the countryside. It's an impossible mission for any of the developed countries in the west," he said. Construction of smart city pilot projects run by the government have been underway in earnest since 2013. And efficiency is a critical issue in those projects, to the point where local officials in some provinces are given performance benchmarks to meet, Shan said.
Is it that urgent?
For China, there is a deadline of sorts that would explain the urgency and the country's strong focus. Its population is expected to climb to 1.4 billion in 15 years, and about 70% of those people will be living in cities, explained Chen Ying, deputy director for the software division of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
According to Xu Ming, VP for major technology player ZTE Corporation, said the country's smart city model would be suitable for other countries to adopt. As he put it, "Many countries are running their smart city pilot projects. But according to what we observed, none of them can move on the development as systematically as China.
However, China isn't going it alone. Xu and others have asked the government to work with international organizations on smart city standards for the country's urbanization. China also is getting technological and other help and support from several Smart Cities Council members, including Lead Partners IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Itron and Associate Partner Siemens.
Yes, China is moving at a furious pace in its efforts for sustainable smart cities just as it has in its many other related initiatives such as electric transportation and energy. How China's smart city mission progresses will definitely be worth watching.
Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.