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Time to unveil the mystery of China’s tech landscape - a Q&A with FT China correspondent, Yuan Yang

Yuan Yang is a Beijing-based correspondent for the FT, covering technology in China. Yuan has been with the FT for more than three years. She was previously a Marjorie Dean intern writing about development economics at The Economist. She is a co-founder of Rethinking Economics, a UK-headquartered charity that campaigns for a more relevant curriculum that reflects real-world events.

Q. One interesting fact about yourself?

I really love singing, including not only karaoke — which is very popular in Beijing — but also open mics and singing with bands or singing while playing the piano. I usually sing English songs but I also know a few Mandarin ones. 

Q. Tell us about a typical day for you in the newsroom.

My day usually starts and ends at home, outside the newsroom, because being based in Beijing and covering technology, I talk to a lot of people in very different time zones from people working on tech policy on the East Coast of the US, all the way to our editors in London or experts in Europe, which means that work can be around the clock. 

In the morning, I might be looking at news or messages, following up with people on the East Coast, and looking at Chinese news on platforms such as 36kr, Caixin, WeChat social media posts, and English language media as well. 

Sometimes, it can be very early; sometimes, it can go very late, because I think China tech is an area that affects the whole world, especially the US. Now that access to China’s tech market is a major part of US-China trade tensions, I find it very important to talk to people in D.C. and on the East Coast of the US, where there are many great researchers looking at China’s tech regulation. 

Q. How do you identify editorial themes each year? And what are the main editorial themes for China/HK in 2019?

We have our Asia meeting every year in January, when we discuss what we think will be the big themes for the year. - based on what our sources are telling us and the things we are reading in other media. Discussing our priorities together is crucial, because good news judgment is integral to journalism, and for delivering stories that are important to our readers.

A major news theme for this year is the beat that I cover: China tech. It’s a rapidly growing beat and I’m particularly interested in writing more about is the regulation of technology in China. The government is pushing more regulations under the name of cyber security that will change the way that tech companies work in China.

Q. From your perspective, what FT topics do China/HK readers value most?

For readers in Hong Kong and China, I’m often surprised that a lot of them see the FT as one of the few places where they can get accurate reporting of local economic and regulatory trends because the way that the regulation is made in Beijing can be very opaque. It’s not clear after a law comes out how it is going to impact your company. 

I also think that our readers in Hong Kong and in China do enjoy our colour pieces such as the Weekend magazine, because the FT isn’t something you only read for work. 

Q. Where are we leading in terms of Asia coverage?

My colleague Lucy Hornby’s investigative reporting into companies is a real highlight - she does very thorough financial investigations into companies. I believe we’re the only foreign newspaper in the world where all our China correspondents speak Chinese. 

Q. What else can our readers expect in 2019?

We have a new Asia Tech newsletter, called Tech Asia. If you’re interested in tech fundraising and investment, it’s going to be the first stop for you to get information. The idea behind that newsletter is that it will be driven by scoops, so it’s going to be somewhere you can find the news first. We’ve also made big investments in our China bureaux. We have a new Shenzhen Bureau Chief, Sue-Lin Wong, who is going to cover southern China. We’re one of the first foreign bureaux in Shenzhen. That means we’re going to cover tech really on the ground.

Q. How can reading the FT help middle managers and starters develop their careers?

It’s important for any organisation to understand what your colleagues, especially your managers are thinking. That means reading the same things that they are reading and seeing the world through their eyes. So for people just starting their career, it’s important to be reading the same material that your managers are reading because you can quickly start to understand how they see the world, how they process information and also how they think critically to make business decisions.

A lot of our readers work in industries where having creative ideas or forming a clear, analytical understanding of the world really matters. If you’re working with your mind all day, you really need to be careful about where you get your information from, and that means paying for high quality information.

Q. What are the top global stories from US/Europe that affect China/HK companies?

I think in the coming year, we’ll see increasing scrutiny into the dealings between American and Chinese tech companies. For example, there may be restrictions on the sales of US semiconductors to China. The Huawei 5G story will continue to balloon: the way the US and some of their European allies are questioning Huawei’s security is going to affect not only the west’s roll-out of 5G, but also its political relationships with China. 

This year there's plenty of bad news on the horizon for Chinese tech companies, because of the deteriorating relationship with the US, but there’s also the potential for reshaping that relationship and foreign governments pushing Chinese tech companies to be more transparent and better at guarding users’ privacy. There’s a strong push from the Chinese government for its companies to better protect user data, and Chinese citizens themselves are also taking up the fight.

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