Sharing: Ideal and material cheek to cheek

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-03-29 16:04

Sharing: Ideal and material cheek to cheek

A worker assembles ofo bike tires in Flying Pigeon bicycle's manufacturing factory on Feb 21, 2017, in Tianjin. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING - It was the must have item for venture capitalists - a portfolio containing Chinese web startups. Now, the tides have turned and the next big thing appears to be the sharing economy.

Yet, as investors rush to secure a stake in this new investment opportunity du jour, questions remain about the maturity and sustainability of the sharing economy as a whole.

Booming business

Sharing - whether bicycles, automobiles, property or any other assets - has become popular in many of China's urban areas, as people seek to make their lives easier and save resources.

A recent report showed that about 600 million Chinese people were involved in sharing of some kind in 2016, which means almost half the population of China is involved in some way.

The trading volume of the sharing economy more than doubled year on year to 3.45 trillion yuan ($500 billion) last year, according to a report released by the State Information Center.

The sharing economy will grow at an average annual rate of 40 percent over the next few years and will account for more than 10 percent of the country's GDP by 2020, the report predicted.

Attracted by the huge market potential, capital has been thrown at sectors such as bike-sharing. More than 12 billion yuan was spent on the two-wheeled craze in the past six months, Shanghai-based private-equity firm Yuan Pu Investment estimates.

As a result, the whole industrial chain has felt the benefits from best-known brands, medium-sized factories and small businesses.

Online consulting firm iResearch said that Mobike, a bike-sharing company, had 7.693 million weekly active users from February 20 to 26.

China's bike-sharers are now looking to expand overseas.

On March 21, Mobike launched in Singapore its first office outside China; on the same day, ofo, another major Chinese player, also introduced geared bicycles to the streets of the city state.

Plight and prospect

The benefits of sharing are obvious both economically and environmentally. The emerging business model, however, is not without controversy due to the questionable usage and disposal of shared assets as well as divergent experiences of market players.

For bike sellers, the prospects seem to be mixed. Sellers focusing on sports and racing bicycles are happy that bike-sharing is promoting healthier lifestyles, but thousands of other retailers are worried about how they will struggle in the fast-changing market.

Failure and a lack of regulations co-exist in China's booming bike-sharing market, said Gao Peng, a researcher with the Society of Public Finance.

"The sharing economy functions in a legislative and supervisory grey area," said Chen Chi, CEO of a Beijing-based accommodation-sharing firm, much like AirBnB.

"If a person shares his or her house, which law regulates the transaction and which institution supervises? Currently, these questions are unanswered," he said.

Tian Hongqi, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that as sharing businesses were new in China there were teething issues, concerning credit and information infrastructure.

One of the effective measures to tackle these problems, Tian suggested, would be a unified system where all credit information could be referenced and shared.

Another approach would be to establish a credit service and rating system for users, Tian added.

Following customer complaints, bicycle associations in China produced a draft guideline last Thursday to regulate the industry.

Led by bicycle associations in Shanghai and Tianjin, the draft has solicited advice from China's major bicycle manufacturers and bike-sharing companies including Mobike and ofo. It comprises standards on the production, operation and maintenance of shared bikes.

More than business

Sharing has won the support of the public and more and more industries are exploring how to apply the model to their businesses. There needs to be a sound relationship between online platforms, enterprises and government sectors, to encourage innovation.

"We will continue to support and guide the development of the sharing economy to enable greater efficiency and convenience to our people," said the Report on the Work of the Government, issued earlier this month.

The government will formulate regulations that encourage innovation and will be both tolerant and prudent, the report read.

Sharing, more than a money making endeavor, is also important for global governance in the eyes of Chinese leaders.

China has established a global web of partnerships, providing a favorable external environment and strategic support for China's development, Foreign Minister Wang Yi has noted.

Meanwhile, the country has made impressive efforts to promote inclusive development, helping countries, especially the developing ones, to share the fruits of development.

The Belt and Road Initiative, for example, will mark a new chapter of openness and win-win cooperation around the globe.

In a word, sharing, on whatever level, will test wisdom and accountability of all those involved.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349