Mascots of Alibaba's e-commerce businesses. Photo:

China’s e-commerce continued to thrive last year despite mounting downward economic pressures and lingering trade tensions, according to a report by the Ministry of Commerce.

The ministry pledged more measures to promote the digitalization of traditional industries and ensure the high-quality growth of the e-commerce sector. China had more than 900 million internet users at the end of last year, with an internet penetration rate of 64.5%, according to the report.

China led the world in e-commerce, with about 51.26 million people employed in the sector in 2019, it said.

China’s e-commerce transactions hit 34.81 trillion yuan (US$4.9 trillion) last year, with online retail sales reaching 10.63 trillion yuan, up 16.5% year on year.

E-commerce contributed a great deal to promote consumption, stabilize foreign trade, alleviate poverty and boost employment. It played a key role in ensuring the country’s steady and high-quality development, the report said.

In 2019, online retail contributed 45.6% of the growth in the country’s retail sales. The report said also that China has established bilateral e-commerce cooperation mechanisms with 22 countries.

In addition, China approved 24 cross-border e-commerce pilot zones in 2019, bringing the number to 59. These pilot zones provide a streamlined system with simplified regulations for faster examination and approval, customs clearance, and easier information sharing for cross-border e-commerce imports and exports.

Since the start of the year, the e-commerce industry has played a prominent role in guaranteeing supplies, facilitating work resumption and stimulating consumption amid the Covid-19 epidemic, the report said.

Hainan free trade port

By lowering taxes and raising duty-free quotas, China has taken concrete steps in line with a master plan released on June 1 to build the southern island province of Hainan into a high-level free trade port, showcasing China’s commitment to post-pandemic recovery and long-term economic growth.

In the latest moves, the Ministry of Finance and the State Taxation Administration lowered the income tax rate to 15% for eligible companies registered in Hainan, and exempted income tax on proceeds of new, outbound direct investment for companies in tourism, modern services and tech-intensive sectors.

As a trailblazing example of institutional innovation needed at the port, the new tax plan is key to cultivating a business environment for the country’s high-level opening-up, said Li Xuhong, a professor at the Beijing National Accounting Institute.

To be eligible for the 15% tax rate, companies have to make sure that they run their businesses from the island province, which Li said will prevent companies from flocking into the free trade port only to pay lower taxes.

The two central departments also capped the personal income tax rate at 15% for individuals with high-level and in-demand expertise working in Hainan, a move that analysts say will help draw a much-desired, talented workforce to Hainan.

“The two new tax policies will become a major determinant in investors’ decision to come to the Hainan free trade port,” said Li.

Supporting SMEs

China will focus on improving financial services to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in an effort to ensure their sound development, according to a State Council executive meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang, said special local government bonds will be allowed to support medium and small banks in replenishing capital.

Data virtualisation

Huawei officially announced that openLooKeng, a data virtualisation engine, goes open source at

The move marks a huge step forward to power data analytics experience with the ultimate simplicity, enabling users to harness big data with the ease of database usage. The tool is previously named openHetu, which was based on the HetuEngine (now LooKengEngine) and first announced on November 19, 2019.

Positioned as an open source high-performance data virtualisation engine, openLooKeng provides unified interfaces for structured query language (SQL), analysis across data sources and centers, and converged queries for interactive, batch, and stream scenarios. 

Hongqi brand

China’s leading automaker FAW Group said it saw a 111% growth in vehicle sales under its Hongqi brand in the first half of this year from the same period of last year.

Despite the impact of Covid-19, more than 70,000 Hongqi cars were sold in the last six months as the company expanded its online and offline sales channels. In June, 15,400 cars of the brand were sold, representing a 92% year-on-year growth.

Hongqi met its 2019 sales target of 100,000 cars and has doubled it for 2020. Hongqi, meaning “red flag,” is China’s iconic sedan brand. Established in 1958, it has been used in parades at major national celebrations.

The story was written by Xu Jiangshan and Liu Licong and first published at It was translated by Nadeem Xu.

Xu Yuenai

Xu Yuenai is a Beijing-based columnist specializing in international relations.