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Uber cozies up to local Chinese by saluting the arrival of President Xi

Jing Gao

In a clear effort to ingratiate itself with Chinese-speaking users, Uber joins a long list of U.S. companies, including Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks, in welcoming the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seattle.

“Welcome President of China,” popped up on the cellphone screens of Chinese Uber users in the city as they opened the ride-sharing app Tuesday.

“As a tech and business hub for the U.S., our region is pleased to host the President of China, Xi Jinping, this Tues – Thurs. We anticipate minor to severe traffic delays,” the message detailed.

China is Uber’s largest market outside the U.S. It entered China in 2014 and currently operates in 17 Chinese cities. Uber’s top three cities, in terms of total number of rides, are all based in China with Guangzhou, Hangzhou, and Chengdu, knocking New York down to fourth place.

Uber’s initial expansion in the country however, encountered many great obstacles. Its disruption to the traditional taxi industry made it an easy target for raids by the authorities, police crackdowns and cab driver protests, which were reported in cities like Chengdu and Guangzhou.

China’s homegrown ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing had a head start over Uber, grabbing 80% of the Chinese market. Backed by Chinese tech titans Alibaba and Tencent, Didi is determined to take Uber down whether through outspending, out-fundraising or by investing in the competition.  Didi Chuxing closed a three billion USD fundraising round only a couple of weeks ago, continues to offer discounts to both passengers and drivers and has poured USD 100 million into Uber’s U.S. rival Lyft.

Uber, however, is not daunted. In addition to having China’s leading search engine Baidu, as its knowledgeable, resourceful, and above all, wealthy local partner, Uber understands the importance of shaking hands with local bureaucrats. In May, Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, attended an industrial conference in Guiyang, a third tier city in southwest China, where he admitted his company was seeking to strengthen ties with Chinese authorities.

Uber seems to have even adopted Chinese bureaucratic jargon. At an event in Beijing held by Baidu, Kalanick reportedly mentioned the word “government” eight times during his ten-minute speech.

“Progress is something we see the government to be incredibly open to… that kind of progress always has to be in harmony with stability and that is one of the big things that we partnered with the government on,” he said against a white backdrop with the Chinese character for “Harmony” emblazoned on it.

Photo courtesy of Global Times

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