Rise of China tech, internet surveillance revelations form background to CeBIT show

Beyond the gadgets on display, the Hannover trade show reflects a big shift of focus in the international tech scene.

CeBIT opened its doors on Sunday evening, with German chancellor Angela Merkel addressing delegates. Image: Deutsche Messe.

As well as showcasing new devices, from tablets to robotic sculptors and drones, this year's CeBIT technology show in Hannover reflects a gradual but important shift taking place in the European technology world.

Whereas in previous years US companies would have taken centre stage, this year the emphasis is on China, both as a creator of technology and as a huge potential market.

"German business values China, not just as our most important trade partner outside of Europe, but also as a partner in developing sophisticated technologies," said Angela Merkel as she opened the show.

"Especially in the digital economy, German and Chinese companies have core strengths ... and that's why cooperation is a natural choice," she said.

Chinese vice premier Ma Kai also attended the show, which featured a keynote from Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

China is CeBIT's 'partner country' this year, with over 600 Chinese companies - including Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, and Neusoft - presenting their innovations at the show.

The UK is also keen on further developing a historically close relationship: the China-Britain Business Council is in Hannover to help UK firms set up meetings with Chinese companies, and to provide support and advice to UK companies interested in doing business in China.

"China is mounting the biggest CeBIT partner country showcase ever. Attendees will clearly see that Chinese companies are up there with the biggest and best of the global IT industry," said a spokesman for CeBIT.

Some of this activity is a result of the increasingly sophisticated output of Chinese tech companies who are looking for new markets for their products. Firms that have found it hard to make headway in the US, such as Huawei, have been focusing their efforts on Europe instead. European tech companies are equally keen to access the rapidly growing Chinese market.

Revelations about mass interception of communications by the US National Security Agency (including allegations that spies had even tapped Angela Merkel's phone) have not helped US-European relations, either. So it's perhaps significant that an interview with NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden is closing the Hannover show.

CeBIT, which has been overshadowed in recent years by CES in Las Vegas, and increasingly by MWC in Barcelona, has focused on business tech as a way of differentiating itself.

Below is a gallery showing scenes from this year's event (apart from Bill Gates in 1986 in the first image) - for more details check out the full gallery Scenes from CeBIT: Robot sculptors, smart bikes, wheat fields, and more on show in Hannover.

The shift to focus on business could be working for CeBIT. This time around, the show area is larger than last year's -- something that hasn't happened since 2001. There are 3,300 exhibitors from 70 countries, which is the same as last year, but the total display area has grown by over five percent.

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