SINGAPORE (July 16): A bout 300km up the Yangtze River from Shanghai, the city of Nanjing is developing a research park to foster China’s next generation of technology giants. The zone stretches 216 sq km along the city’s north side, housing dozens of high-profile companies as well as a multitude of start-ups. Across the river is a newer park where roads, sewers and electrical grids stand ready for even more tech tenants to move in.

Nanjing is on the front line of the government’s effort to compete with Silicon Valley, and the city is playing a brash role in the clash among global trading superpowers. One sunny June morning, a crowd gathers in Building B of the Nanjing park to celebrate the arrival of a start-up. “Please put your hands on the screen to officially ignite the opening of our business,” the emcee says to government officials and executives invited onstage. “Three, two, one, ignite!” Simulated lightning shoots up 5m from each person’s palm, converging in a phantasmagoria. Music blares.

The start-up — Chuangxin Qizhi, or AInnovation — will use government largesse to expand faster than it could on its own. Hocking Xu, an International Business Machines Corp and SAP veteran who runs AInnovation, is working with companies in retail, manufacturing, and finance to boost operations using artificial intelligence (AI), a priority for the government. “We can move very fast,” Xu says. “We experiment, then change course as needed.”

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