SXSW, China discover each other

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A big crowd packed the City Hall of Austin on March 10 to listen to a performance by Chinese band MoxiZishi x JiKeHaBu x 3He and a local Austin group to kick off China Gathering at SXSW, a program aimed at promoting China at the internationally acclaimed 10-day event from March 9 to 18.

SXSW (South by Southwest), originally started as a musical festival in 1987, has grown into an international fair of music, film and emerging technologies.

Scores of executives from China's companies at the forefront of innovation such as Alibaba, Ehang, Mobike, Ant Financial and others have joined in on the festivities. Over the past two days, some of them have displayed their technologies for SXSW audience and garnered some favorable attention. More will be discussing their innovations over the following days.

"SXSW is one of our top priorities this year," said Li Qiangmin, consul general of China in Houston. He organized a large consular delegation including Deputy Consul General Wang Yu to attend this year's SXSW.

Li said that he was very surprised to see hundreds of Chinese faces at SXSW. "I have run into more than 60 executives from Chinese companies," Li said. "This is a very good platform to gather together music, film and high tech. I am very happy to see that SXSW created a China Gathering platform to engage China, and I hope to see more Chinese companies taking part in SXSW."

Vivian Forrest, founder and CEO of China Gathering, said that while the delegation that's come through China Gathering numbered more than 40, many others have come on their own. She hopes to eventually organize them to more coherently present China at SXSW.

This marks the first year that executives from Chinese companies have conducted solo presentations at SXSW. "They can use this platform of SXSW to bring Chinese companies onto the world stage. Some Chinese executives told me that they consider SXSW a newly discovered treasure for US China collaboration in innovation," Li said.

As innovation has been a priority for the Chines government, Li said the consulate will work closely with China Gathering to enhance China's profile in the future.

SXSW's emerging technologies are so attractive that organizers of the US-China Innovation and Investment Summit have decided to invite SXSW innovative projects to join its May summit in Houston. Any innovation at SXSW will instantly become one of its InnoSTARS finalists if they join the UCIS through the China Gathering platform. Those projects will then have the opportunity to be pitched to Chinese companies on a year-long tour of China.

Hugh Forrest, chief program officer of SXSW, said that in the last five to 10 years, international participation has increased greatly. "However, nowhere is our need to grow connections more significant and more important than with China. When we talk about emerging technology and innovation, China can't be ignored," Forrest said. He urged the Chinese present to spread the word about SXSW and help the connections grow even more for next year.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler welcomed Chinese guests at City Hall. "SXSW is the World's Fair of the future. I am happy to see Chinese companies have grown in number from 15 last year to over 60 this year. My very first trip as mayor internationally was to Southeast Asia and China. We have so much to learn about each other. SXSW, where good ideas become reality, is the right place for us to be connected," Adler said.

Derrick Xiong, co-founder and CMO of Ehang, said that he came to SXSW for the first time three years ago. Compared to other tech events like CES, he found SXSW very refreshing and said its influence was growing.

"There are so many presentations going on at the same time that people have to choose carefully what they listen to. Whoever attended my presentation was truly interested in what we are doing, it's more focused," said Xiong, who presented Ehang's pilotless airplane to an audience of more than 200 on Friday.

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