Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Alibaba's Tech-Hub Hometown Hosts the World's Leaders

China is hosting world leaders at its first Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, an ancient capital that’s also a global high-tech hub and bastion of entrepreneurship.

Famed for centuries for its mild climate, abundant wealth and scenic landscape that includes West Lake, which is featured on the back of 1 yuan bills, the city of 8.7 million just south of Shanghai is a natural pick. But more importantly for the leaders of a country on the verge of becoming the world's largest economy, it showcases the transformation to high-value growth driven by innovative private companies like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Founder Jack Ma's $35 billion fortune makes him the country's richest person and the embodiment of the new economy. The former teacher started Alibaba from his Hangzhou apartment in 1999 with $60,000 and led it to the biggest-ever initial public offering in 2014. Now the $243 billion operator of Taobao, China's biggest shopping site, employs 36,000 and inspires followers: A third of China's shopping websites are based in the city, where online retail sales jumped 27.6 percent in the first half of the year from a year earlier. 

Hangzhou also is home to China's first private automaker, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. and Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., which calls itself the world’s largest video surveillance equipment supplier. There's also a financial center, Yuhuang Shannan Fund Town, that aims to replicate the hedge fund hub of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The city has been shown off before. When Mao Zedong hosted Richard Nixon on the first U.S. presidential visit in 1972, he chose Hangzhou along with Beijing and Shanghai. After Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up began in 1978, Hangzhou was quick to embrace the changes. In 1984, when young scholars who gathered in the nearby hillside village of Moganshan made some outspoken comments on economic policy, attendees at that landmark event in China’s reform included two young economists who are now hosting this weekend's G-20 gathering: People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and Finance Minister Lou Jiwei.

The capital of Zhejiang province went on to make big economic gains in the 2000s under an up-and-coming young provincial party chief named Xi Jinping. Now Hangzhou's entrepreneurship and private enterprises underpin a 10.8 percent expansion that compares with the country's 6.7 percent gross domestic product growth. The $150 billion municipal economy is China's 10th largest and bigger than Hungary's.

Premier Zhou Enlai took President Richard Nixon on a stroll through Hangzhou's West Lake in 1972.
Premier Zhou Enlai took President Richard Nixon on a stroll through Hangzhou's West Lake in 1972.
Photographer: Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images

This weekend, with the leaders of two-thirds of the world’s population in town, numbers show how Chinese leaders aren't leaving to chance anything that could cause Rio Olympics-type embarrassments. Local authorities built 651 infrastructure projects, arranged 760,000 volunteers, and closed 230 mines to ensure clean air, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. There will be 2,000 drivers and 900 vehicles and for VIPs, plus a 7,450-square-meter warehouse to store 900 tons of their food, state-run China Daily said

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