Macau, the former Portuguese colony that is now the world's biggest gambling center, is planning to host a tech fair next year to match the famed CES in Las Vegas.
The brains behind the "Beyond" conference are Lu Gang, founder of Chinese tech news media company TechNode, which was TechCrunch's former China partner, and Jason Ho, a Macanese venture investor and a member of the CPPCC Beijing, China's top political advisory body, who also enjoys deep connections in the Macau government.
The event, which will be "supported" by the Macau government though details of the arrangement aren't finalized, signals the region's long game to diversify its casino-focused economy for its population of 600,000. The fair has also won "support" from the Guangdong provincial government, which is pitching its own "Greater Bay Area" comprising Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau and other cities in the region, to rival the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Macau has very good infrastructure. With the entertainment industry and the hotels, I think it's very suitable for doing an event that could potentially attract people to join," Ho told TechCrunch in an interview.
Unlike CES, the tech fair will have a focus beyond consumer and enterprise electronics to include government-facing technology, Ho said. It's inviting companies across the globe that specialize in social and environmental technology, life sciences, advanced technology and "new infrastructure," a Chinese buzzword referring to innovation in the likes of 5G, smart cities and transportation.
Ho envisions the event will be a bridge between China and the rest of the world, given Macau's "neutral" position in the geopolitical landscape.
"I think Macau can be a platform that could help other countries to get into Mainland China or even for Mainland China companies to go to APAC or Middle Eastern countries," Ho said.
"I think Hong Kong and Macau are the only ones that could host a very international and neutral event that people would like to join and won't feel like that's a very government event."
Many argue that Hong Kong's special status as a semiautonomous region is at stake as Beijing tightens its grip over the former British colony. Rise, a popular tech conference that Web Summit hosted in Hong Kong up until 2019, has been relocated to Kuala Lumpur due to ongoing political tensions in the city.
Ho admitted Macau will potentially face the same challenge, but he believed the exit of major international tech fairs, from Rise in Hong Kong to CES Asia in Shanghai (in part due to the U.S.-China trade war), should open up opportunities for Macau to attract attendees from Asia's tech community and others with an interest in China.
"I always have a big dream that we want to compare ourselves eventually with Singapore," Ho said, adding that the Macau government is working to introduce policies that are friendly to overseas businesses.
Beyond is scheduled to take place in mid-June next year, but the viability of the event will no doubt be contingent on the development of COVID-19 control in the next few months.
Aside from tech corporations and startups, Beyond also looks to attract influential members from academia, society and provincial governments across China. The event organizer is in talks with ByteDance, DJI, SenseTime, Alibaba, Tencent, Foxconn, BMW and more to invite executives from the giants to attend.
Update (December 29, 2020): In an earlier interview, Beyond's organizer said the event would be partially funded by the Macau government. The organizer has since said that the event will not receive government funding. The article has been updated accordingly.