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China's state-backed metaverse committee aims to help industry join the 'racetrack of the digital economy'

The state-backed China Computer Industry Association has formed a metaverse committee amid the country's growing interest in the concept, the trade group for domestic computer manufacturers announced on Wednesday.

The computer association, which is supervised by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), created the Metaverse Industry Professional Committee to help members join "the new racetrack of the digital economy, and to lead the healthy and orderly development of the metaverse industry", the group said in a statement.

"[Competition in the] internet sector has come to a new stage, and we are going to embrace the fourth generation of the internet, which will be the age of the metaverse," said Luo Jun, the committee's secretary general, at the committee's inaugural meeting online, which was attended by about 170 scientists, company representatives and journalists.

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The new committee comes as Chinese businesses and governmental agencies rush to embrace the concept of a shared virtual world considered by some to be the next iteration of the internet, despite there being no clear commercial applications yet.

The goals of the Beijing-based committee include drafting industry standards, helping relevant authorities create industry road maps, setting up a fund of 1 billion yuan (US$148.7 million) to support start-ups and expanding the metaverse into manufacturing, commerce, tourism, healthcare and education.

"The metaverse is the internet that has developed into a new infrastructure for a new social and economic pattern in the future. It goes far beyond just virtual reality," said Guo Yike, who serves as president of the new committee and is also vice-president of Hong Kong Baptist University.

The committee has more than 150 companies among its founding members, which include Lenovo Research Shanghai, display panel maker BOE Technology and cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360.

The organisation has also sought international cooperation, despite challenges from the soured US-China relationship in recent years. Honorary committee presidents include Stanford professor Arogyaswami Paulraj, known for his work in wireless communications, and Joseph Sifakis, a Greek-French computer scientist who shared the 2007 Turing Award with two others for work in computer model checking.

"International cooperation is inevitable as it promotes global peace," Guo said. "Geopolitical tensions will limit the development of the metaverse."

The new committee is the second state-backed industry group dedicated to the metaverse. Last October, the China Mobile Communications Association, also supervised by the MIIT, formed the Metaverse Industry Committee, which later declared November 11 to be "metaverse day".

Metaverse development has continued in China despite warnings about the industry in state media.

Last November, Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily said the public should "stay rational in understanding the current metaverse mania". A month later, the paper warned that people buying virtual properties risk "getting burned".

The affiliated state-run Economic Daily issued its own warning last November against speculative trading in metaverse concept stocks, sending share prices tumbling before later rebounding.

Meanwhile, local governments have continued to tout their plans for metaverse development.

In January, authorities in Wuhan, in central Hubei province, and Hefei, in eastern Anhui province, pledged to boost metaverse development over the next five years. The Wuhan government said it aimed to integrate metaverse, big data, cloud computing and blockchain with the "real economy". In Hefei, the government said the city would cultivate a number of leading companies and products in "cutting-edge fields" such as the metaverse.

In a five-year plan for the Shanghai tech industry released in December, the local government said it would strengthen the research and development of core technologies that support the metaverse, as well as explore industry applications of the concept.

The previous month, Zhangjiajie, in southern Hunan province, launched a metaverse research centre to help the city, famed for its mountainous landscapes, expand its tourism industry.

With all this government activity planned for the next five years, the newly established metaverse committee projects that the industry will surpass 200 billion yuan over this period, up from roughly 30 billion yuan today.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.