China’s chief industry planner has unveiled a new action plan for the development of virtual reality in the country. The action plan specifies important goals for the development of metaverse technologies through 2026, as well as critical tasks and measures for the industry’s development. We analyze the plan’s relevance and speculate on the role of international investors in China’s metaverse’s future.
China has released the country’s first national-level policy document for the development of technologies related to the metaverse, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).
The Virtual Reality and Industry Application Integration Development Action Plan (2022-2026) (the “Action Plan”), released on November 2, 2022 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) along with four other government departments, provides the most comprehensive set of policies yet for developing China’s metaverse, with key tasks and development goals for the period up until 2026.
Although the Action Plan does not directly mention “metaverse”, it seeks to develop the core technology upon which the metaverse is built, including various sub-fields of VR, AR, and MR, as well as essential hardware and equipment, industry supply chains, and governmental standards and regulations.
Below we provide an overview of the key tasks and implementation measures outlined in the Action Plan and discuss the significance of the new policy document for the industry and foreign investors.
Table of Contents
The Action Plan is the latest signal that the Chinese government is taking the metaverse and related technology very seriously and that it views it as a key industry for China’s future development, stating that the technology will “profoundly change human production and lifestyles”.
VR is also listed among the “key industries” for the digital economy in the 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP), China’s overarching economic and industry development plan for the period from 2021 to 2025. The Action Plan was formulated in order to enact this part of the 14th FYP, calling upon various local governments and departments to implement measures to foster the industry’s growth.
The 14th FYP calls for innovation of technology, such as 3D graphics generation, dynamic environment modeling, real-time motion capture, and high-speed rendering, as well as developing VR machines, perceived interaction, and content collection, and production equipment.
The specific 2026 goals of the Action Plan include:
- Achieving significant breakthroughs in key 3D technologies, VR integration, and immersive audio-visual technology
- Enriching the new generation of human-friendly VR terminal products
- Making improvements to the industrial ecosystem
- Applying VR on a large scale in important economic and social industries
- Developing key enterprises and industrial clusters with strong international competitiveness
Key tasks of the Action Plan
The Action Plan highlights five key tasks for the development of the VR/AR/MR industry over the next five years:
- Promoting integrated innovation of key technologies. This means accelerating technological breakthroughs in key technological sub-fields, such as near-eye display, graphics rendering, perception interaction, network transmission, content production, compression coding, and security and trustworthiness while improving cooperation with 5G and AI.
- Improving the supply capacity of the entire industry chain. This will involve improving the supply capacity of key VR devices, terminal peripherals, business operation platforms, content production tools, and special information infrastructure. The task also involves improving the comfort, ease of use, and safety of the end VR products.
- Accelerating multi-industry and multi-scenario applications. This will require deepening the organic integration of VR and industries with the potential for large-scale or specialized implementation, such as industrial production, cultural tourism, integrated media, education and training, sports and health, business, performing arts and entertainment, safety and emergency response, disability assistance, smart cities, and more.
- Strengthening the construction of the industrial public service platform. This includes building a common application technology support platform, an immersive content integrated development platform, and an integrated application incubation and cultivation platform to increase support for the development of the VR industry.
- Building an integrated application standards system. This involves strengthening top-level standards and building a comprehensive VR standards system for technologies that are safe and trustworthy, including near-eye display, graphics rendering, perceptual interaction, network transmission, content production, and compression coding.
Measures for achieving the goals
The Action Plan proposes a number of measures for achieving the development goals. Many of these focus on how government departments should work together and guide the industries’ development, pilot projects, and talent cultivation. Specific measures include:
- Promoting the integrated development of large and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and cultivating “specialized, refined, special, and innovative” companies (referring to companies with strong business specialization, refined management, specialized processes, and a high level of innovation).
- Encouraging R&D investment and supporting companies, universities, scientific research institutes, standards organizations, industry alliances, and more to formulate platforms for multi-disciplinary innovation.
- Carrying out pilot applications by encouraging telecom operators, internet companies, and other companies to participate in the construction of content development centers and application experience display centers.
- Strengthening the talent pool by supporting higher learning institutions to establish and improve relevant disciplines, encouraging research cooperation between industry and universities, and cultivating multi-disciplinary talents.
- Expanding channels for international exchange and cooperation in the field of VR and accelerating the pace of international market development.
Significance of the Action Plan and the role of foreign investment
The Action Plan is the clearest sign yet that the Chinese government is banking on VR technology and the metaverse to become the next big thing in the digital space. As with other emerging technologies – such as autonomous driving – China wants to ensure that it will not be playing catch-up with other countries to develop a home-grown industry.
More generally, one of the core goals of the Chinese government for the coming decades is to achieve technological self-sufficiency. This was a core tenant of the 20th Congress Party report, which sets the overarching policy agenda for the period until 2027.
For this reason, if in the near or longer-term, future humans will indeed be spending significant amounts of time in virtual worlds, the Chinese government will want to ensure that the domestic industry is not reliant on foreign technology and has the capacity to run the metaverse independently of other countries. This will not only help support the economy through the development of a potentially lucrative and high-growth industry but will also put Chinese regulators in a better position to shape the development of the industry and ensure it abides by Chinese laws and regulations.
This, however, does not mean that China’s VR industry and metaverse will be limited to domestic players. China has long aligned foreign investment policies with its core development and industry goals. The Catalogue of Encouraged Industries for Foreign Investment (2022 Version) actively encourages the participation of foreign investors in several fields related to metaverse technology, including:
- R&D and manufacturing of VR, AR, and MR equipment
- Development and manufacture of vision sensors (digital cameras, digital cameras, 3D sensors, lidars, millimeter-wave radars, and so on) applied to fifth-generation mobile terminals (mobile phones, automobiles, drones, VR, augmented displays, and so on) […]
- Vocational and skills training services based on VR or AR devices”, among others
In addition, the Action Plan directly encourages international cooperation on VR technology. As this plan serves as an initial guiding policy for the development of China’s VR and metaverse industry, we expect to see more targeted policy documents for various aspects of the industry, which may include more guidance on the participation of foreign companies.
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