Town Hall Meeting with Baidu Employees
U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
March 30, 2012
Ambassador Locke: Thanks, [Baidu CEO] Robin [Li], for the introduction, and Kaiser
[Kuo], thanks for helping put this event all together. We had a great time at lunch with Robin and the members of your executive team.
Actually, it’s kind of warm in here. I’ll take [my jacket] off, if you don’t mind. I guess I’m a little bit over-dressed compared to all of you. I do have some other meetings to go to, and also came from some other meetings. But I know that you guys are always very very casual, kind of like that Silicon Valley culture of innovation, excitement, drive, energy, but also very very casual.
Anyway, it’s really exciting for me to be here at Baidu. I’ve always heard so much about Baidu. What you’re doing under the leadership of Robin and the rest of the team, you’re transforming society. You’re making it possible for all the people of China to take advantage of information that’s available over the internet. I believe that the internet is a transformational mechanism that is changing people’s lives -- how they communicate with each other, how they’re
able to learn, how they’re able to do commerce. Everybody is using the internet to order things,
to pay their bills, to conduct financial transactions, and so it is a transformational technology. But if we really want to make sure that that technology is used in the right way and used to benefit humanity then we’ve got to have creative people. Creative people like all of you here and the
thousands that are part of the Baidu company, making sure that you’re focusing on the people and enabling people to access all the information and all the services and all the full potential of the internet. That’s why it’s so exciting for me to be here. You can sense as you walk in the architecture and everything else, and the people here, what an exciting place this is in terms of what you’re doing, but also a great place to work.
I have a couple of notes that I’d like to just go over and make sure that I don’t skip some thoughts that I have.
We just came from the exhibit room where we saw the patent that was issued to Robin back in the 1990s. The Patent Office is actually part of the Commerce Department. I have been really, when I was at the Commerce Department as Secretary, or Minister of Commerce, trying to make our patent process even faster and more efficient and we’re actually making great progress doing that.
But Robin’s technology is a symbol more than anything else, is a symbol of intellectual process, creativity, that led to the development of a whole new industry, in this case a brand new company. But more than just a company. It was revolutionary in that it transforms people’s
lives. It’s like curing the disease. It’s more than just a product. That’s why we’re recognizing in the Patent Office back in Washington, D.C., in America, the mind, developing a process that then became a product and a company that is now transforming the lives of people throughout China, and you all are part of that. You all are part of that enterprise.
We in America have this expression that’s kind of on our money and our coins. It’s Latin. It says “E Pluribus Unum” -- out of many, one. Out of many, one. It was reflecting back on the creation of the United States of America. Thirteen different colonies creating one new country. And it was recognizing the diversity and the differences of all the different colonies in the United States in the early part of our history. Different people, different religions, different ways of life, different thoughts, different ideas, but all coming together to form one more powerful entity. That’s what you all are doing here. So many different ideas and talents, all working toward a
In fact that’s really what America is all about. We have people of different religions, we have people of different ethnic groups from all around the world. We have people of different customs and cultures. But America enables people to bring those talents together, to prosper, to invent and to innovate.
That’s why we in the United States very much value the role of the inventor, the innovator, the creative thinker, the writer, the individual. We believe that if you provide the right tools and the right climate those individuals can succeed, which is why we’re so proud that in America we have so many things that have been invented by Americans -- from technology to cures for disease to focusing on new energy, and the list goes on and on. And of course, technology. Robin, of course, went to one of our great American colleges and universities and got his degree there, in addition to the degrees that he has here in China. That has enabled him to flourish and to prosper.
That’s why every year we have hundreds of thousands of Chinese coming to America to study in our colleges and universities. We have millions of students from around the world and we recognize that they have great talent and we want to give them the tools by which they can flourish and thrive.
That’s why America is a land of immigrants. America is a land of immigrants, whether we are first generation or tenth generation, our ancestors came from other parts of the world. They came to America in search of freedom, hope and opportunity.
My grandfather was born in Guangdong Province, came to the United States in the late 1800s, worked as a servant for a family near Seattle, Washington. Then he went back to China, had a family, where my father was born also in Guangdong Province. Then grandfather came back to the United States, worked, sent money back to the village to support the family. And then eventually my grandfather came back to China and brought the whole family over to the United States.
My father joined the United States Army, was part of World War II during the Normandy Invasion. After the war was over he went back to Hong Kong, met my mom, and brought my mom over to the United States.
So our story is the story of virtually every American. It’s because of the freedoms, the
liberties and the social structure of America that allows people from the most humble beginnings to succeed and prosper, to even become President of the United States of America.
So we very much value the foundation for ingenuity, creativity, freedom, and the role of the individual, and recognize that the individual can do great things and change and transform society.
That’s what you all are doing here. The power of the internet is so tremendous. It enables
people to learn about other things, other parts of the world. It will allow the smallest merchant in a small village in Guangdong Province to sell things to people all around the world. It will enable artists in Africa who don’t have retail stores, able to sell their goods and their art work to
people around the world. And of course you’re seeing what it does in terms of information.
I believed when I was Governor of the State of Washington that it doesn’t matter how big your school is and the quality of your teachers in the building, that if we use the power of technology and the internet a student in a very small village in the rural parts of my State of Washington should be able to take classes at Stanford or Beida or London or any place else in the United States. And even if you don’t have a calculus teacher, a teacher in your small village in the State of Washington or in China, if you don’t have a teacher who can teach you calculus, use the power of the internet to take those courses all around the world. So it doesn’t matter whether
or not your school is large or has financial resources or is rich. It doesn’t matter. But it means that your student can take any course in any subject matter that he or she may want. That’s the power of technology and the internet.
You are, through Baidu, helping do that. You’re allowing people to communicate. You’re allowing people to find out information about whatever topic they may have, and that’s the power of technology. It’s bringing the world closer together. It’s enabling people to learn constantly,
no matter how old they are, and to keep learning.
Let me just say that in order to really transform society and to have that free flow of information we’ve got to have people that, we’ve got to create that climate for innovation, which
is going back to the patent that Robin got for his new search engine.
We’ve got to make sure that if you create new products and if you have ideas, if you spend a lot of time and money and energy creating a new product, a new idea, that nobody steals it, that nobody takes it away from you. Because if you spend a lot of money let’s say on developing a new drug to fight a disease, and it costs your company hundreds of millions of dollars. If someone takes that drug and just steals it, and then can sell it at the same price or at a cheaper price than you are charging, then how do you ever pay back your investment? All the money that you spent creating that drug. And if someone can take that intellectual property, your idea,
why would you ever want to spend the next five or six or ten years developing a new idea or a new drug or a new product if someone else can take it away from you?
That’s why protection of intellectual property rights is so important to us in the United States,
and we believe that it is so important to an innovative society. That if you want to continue to innovate, those that take the risk, who spend the money, or spend a long time developing a product or service, must be compensated and must have that idea protected. Otherwise, people will not take those risks and you’re not going to have new products and new innovation.
We very much believe in the United States that China, if it wants to have more companies like Baidu, if it wants to start inventing better products and higher products and higher value products, that there must be stronger protection for intellectual property rights. Otherwise that innovation will not occur in China and the Chinese people will do that innovation, let’s say, in
Korea, Japan, the United States, Singapore or someplace else. If we want good paying jobs here in China there has to be strong protection of intellectual property rights, whether for innovators like you or musicians or artists, writers, or people who invent new products, new automobiles, new forms of energy.
We also believe very much that because of the power of the internet to realize the full potential of the internet we have to ensure that everybody is able to express their ideas and to use the power of the internet to debate, to talk about things, even if they might be unpopular, and even if they might be sensitive.
President Obama said in Shanghai two and a half years ago, he said the more freely that information flows, the stronger society becomes because the internet generates new ideas and encourages creativity.
There are now some two billion people connected to the internet, and over the next 20 years it’s estimated that that will double. Four billion people using the internet. And the more people
on line, freely contributing their ideas, the more valuable the network is to everyone, both to the users and to society. But if people aren’t free to fully express their thoughts or to discuss and debate things, then the full potential of the internet will never be realized.
So you guys are on the cusp. You guys are on the edge of the revolutionary transformative technology that’s going to bring people around the world closer together, enable the people of China to be closer together and to talk about things and to discover and learn things, whether you’re in a remote village or in Beijing or Shanghai. And you’re going to enable people to change how they do business, whether it’s buying things or selling things or conducting commercial transactions. Through the power of the internet and all of the creativity that you are involved in, you’re going to help people learn things in a totally different way.
That will benefit the people of China and indeed the people of the entire world.
So it’s really exciting to be here, and I’m in awe of you. You can sense the brain power in
this room, and it’s kind of scary. I don’t know what you’re going to invent or come up with next. Technology is changing so fast that things that we took for granted last year, it’s going to be
out-moded, it’s going to be obsolete probably in about five or six years. It’s kind of hard to think what the future holds, but it’s comforting to know that because of all of you, and you guys are so young compared to me. You guys probably have a closer pulse to the interests, the tastes, the demands of consumers of not just China and the people of China, but people all around the world. So I wish you the very best of luck. Thank you very much.
Moderator: I’ve got just a few questions that I’d like to put to Ambassador Locke and to
Robin to get them to talk about some of these issues, some of which we’ve already started to address.
We were talking earlier about the relationship between company culture on the one hand and innovation on the other hand. I know that you haven’t been here at Baidu for very long, but you were already telling me about how you sort of feel it in the architecture and you feel it in the atmosphere, you feel there’s something very different about this place compared perhaps to other
Chinese internet companies, but also maybe something familiar to it. Is there something familiar about the culture here? I talked to you a little bit about it while we were on the tour, but --
Ambassador Locke: There’s certainly a different culture here when you have your mascot,
the bear, sitting in a massage chair. [Laughter]. If the mascot can get a massage, that’s pretty good.
I think what’s interesting about the culture here, and you can sense it, is that first of all, all the
employees are relatively young, and that means you’re not confined or restricted by the way things have always been done. And I think you have a pulse on the action, you’re more action-oriented.
You’re impatient. And that’s good. I think you need to continue to keep that impatience within
the company and not get bogged down by bureaucracy.
Moderator: How would you characterize the company culture at the most disruptive of American technology companies? Do you see similarities there?
Ambassador Locke: I think there’s a great similarity. It’s almost the same culture, you can sense the same culture here as what you would find in Silicon Valley working for all the new technology firms. I sense that same corporate culture. You can sense it in just seeing the cafeteria and the lively interaction of the people in the cafeteria, to the way in which you dress, just how casual you are. You focus on the product, not focused on the customs, traditions, but technology and ideas.
Moderator: About eight years ago when I was at Porter this is one of the questions that I always asked Robin about. What elements of American culture, of Silicon Valley culture, did you deliberately bring to China when you started Baidu, and to what extent did you have to change those for the Chinese circumstances. Are there things about Baidu’s company culture that are still distinctly Chinese?
Robin: Well, I guess everyone here speaks Chinese. [Laughter].
I would say that Baidu is a beneficiary of the U.S.. I am educated in the U.S.. Baidu was founded by money from venture capitalists in the U.S.. When I came back to China to start Baidu I really tried to build the company that’s very much Silicon Valley like. A high tech company. I believe that involvement like that, a company culture like that, can foster innovation, can become very competitive and become successful here in China. So I tried very hard to maintain that kind of culture like the Ambassador just said. We are very casual, we have a lot of open space. People are young here, they are energetic, they are passionate about technology. The kind of things are all the similarities between Baidu and the Silicon Valley companies.
I’ve hosted quite a number of CEOs from Silicon Valley companies. When they come here
they say oh, I feel like home because it’s so much similar to their companies.
If I have to say some difference, I would say that our employees are generally younger. When we were in Silicon Valley, especially for the startup companies, we tried to hire people with more years of experience. The smaller the firm, the more experienced engineers you need. We really need, okay you have to have five years of experience. You think like that.
But here in China, especially when we first started, there were not many truly high tech companies here in China. It was very hard for us to find experienced engineers. So we had to hire a lot of recent graduates, fresh graduates, and train them from there. That culture maintained for more than ten years.
Last year we hired 13 fresh graduates. Mostly computer science majors. We have developed a system that will train our fresh graduates to become a more experienced engineer. I think that’s something different from Baidu and Silicon Valley companies.
Moderator: How important has company culture been to the success of the company? If you can sum that up.
Robin: That is the most important thing to me. If we want to be successful we need to maintain a culture that fits, that this industry fits our mission. So it is very important. It’s more
important than procedure and the other things you hear about. Company culture is the number one thing or value.
Moderator: There’s one more topic I want to talk about before we turn it over to audience questions, and we want to spend more time on audience questions.
Openness and the internet. Openness of [inaudible]. It’s an important concept. You would probably agree it’s the opening in opening and reform. It’s also in the context of computing and the internet, we’re talking about open source all the time, talking about open platforms all the time. Openness. It’s an important concept.
Mr. Ambassador, let’s talk about your approach to openness. Your embassy team here has won many plaudits, has gotten a lot of praise for the way you’ve been able to engage openly with young people through the medium of the internet. Can you talk about how important that has been in helping you to be a more effective diplomat?
Ambassador Locke: Part of the role of the diplomat is to inform people in the host country, here in China, about what our country is all about. Our philosophy, our history, our values. And you can’t always depend on the traditional media to get that message out. Not everybody reads the newspaper or watches the television. So using the social media now, whether it’s hosting stories and making those articles available so that people can search the topic and learn about the views of America or what we’re doing here in Chia, using the power of the internet and
search engines like Baidu; to the actual social media, whether it’s blogging and so forth. That’s a way in which we can try to communicate our ideas, and actually reach more people of China. And actually specialize -- People might care about a certain topic or a certain issue, and using the power of the internet they can go straight to that particular topic, whether it’s to learn about how do I get a visa to go to the United States for tourism, or what is the United States doing in terms of its fiscal policy, or what is the United States doing by way of environment? What is the embassy doing on human rights or something like that, or internet freedom?
This enables people to specifically learn about the topic they care about, or that they are most interested in, and do it more efficiently, more effectively, without having to wait for someone else to provide that information to them through the traditional newspaper or television program.
Moderator: It’s not just been a one-way street, though. It’s not about the embassy just
getting its message out. It’s also about you learning about Chinese --
Ambassador Locke: Oh, yeah.
Moderator: Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve learned through the medium of the internet?
Ambassador Locke: Just that, we monitor all the different internet sites and what people are talking about, and the most searched ideas or conversations. And we’re learning that obviously there’s interest in environmental issues, a big concern about environmental issues such as the air
quality of Beijing. And thanks to I think what we’ve been posting from the embassy, people have learned that the air is very polluted and have used that information to push the Beijing government to also report on the air quality.
Obviously a lot of interest in terms of international affairs. We’re learning a lot about what people are talking about. Also just local issues like look at the interest that the people of China had following the high speed train crash. So a lot of people wanting more accountability, transparency, ethics in government.
Moderator: Ambassador Locke and Robin, I hope you can both talk to this. Innovation I hope you both agree isn’t something that’s born only out of competition, but it’s also the child of
cooperation. That it’s born with openness. If openness is a basic value or as an approach to programming or to platforms, it’s something that can be leveraged for innovation.
I’d like you to both discuss, if possible, ways in which openness can help to bring about
cooperation and innovation between the U.S. and China.
Robin: Like I said, our culture is very open. People can discuss things very freely. We also keep in close contact with our U.S. counterparts, lots of the U.S. major technology companies we are very familiar with. Some of them hire people from us, we hire people from them. And we talk about all kinds of possible collaborations. We work with a lot of U.S.-based companies to make things happen.
I personally am friends with a lot of CEOs of the Silicon Valley major technology companies. That way it not only keeps our company up to speed, it also keeps China up to speed in terms of technology.
There are lots of countries at our income level that’s not even close to our internet penetration
or to the smart phone penetration. If you go to other countries the smart phone phenomena is not nearly as close as China is. But here I’ve heard that more than 100 million smart phones will be shipped this year alone. So that’s because China and U.S. have a very open communication
channel. We know what’s going on there. We know what’s good and what lessons the U.S. learned and we can learn from there. So there are lots of things that the U.S. and China can work together.
There are also a lot of innovations from China. Although right now it’s more China specific, I think going forward we’ll be able to expand outside of China. That we need to learn from the U.S. too, a lot of U.S. companies by definition they are global companies. When they started from day one, they target the whole global market instead of the U.S. market. But for Chinese companies, most companies, when they started they only target China market, but eventually they will need to go outside of China. That we can learn a lot from the U.S. companies, too.
Ambassador Locke: I think that openness is the key to continual innovation and discovery. You can’t innovate if you don’t understand the forces of the economy, what people’s demands are, what their dreams and aspirations are, what their hopes are, and even what their worries are. If you want to create products or tools that address people’s desires and worries and concerns, their priorities, you have to really understand what’s going on. That’s why I think the more openness
there is, the more discussion, debate that occurs, more freely people understand what’s happening around the world and what’s on the minds of the Chinese people, what’s on the minds of the American people, what’s on the minds of people in Africa, what they’re concerned about, what they want, I think that helps unleash the creative forces to respond to those dreams and aspirations of people around the world.
I also think that openness means collaboration. The more open we are where you can discuss things and talk about it the better able you are to fashion a solution to the problem. Openness in terms of let’s say scientists talking together from here with people in the United States. Freely talking about it, having that discussion about what the problem is so that you can find the solution to that problem. Whether it’s a disease, whether it’s on climate change, whether it’s the economics of a company.
So I believe that the more openness there is the better the quality of the discussion, the debate, the analysis which leads to a better solution. And simply just more knowledge, more enlightenment. The more open people are about what’s happening in China versus what’s happening in Africa, means greater understanding, people to people understanding.
Americans have all these views of China and Chinese have all these different views of Americans. The more that they can just talk to each other, the more open they are, whether it’s over the internet or whether more tourists from America come to China, the more Chinese go to America, the more we learn about each other I think the better quality the conversation and therefore the better our society.
Moderator: Let’s very quickly begin our question and answer session. Just one more quick question from -- There’s a little button on the right.
Ambassador Locke: Oh, this is high tech. [Laughter].
Moderator: What would you expect here?
So while the world has in many ways embraced the kind of openness and connectivity that you’re describing, in some areas misunderstandings very stubbornly persist. If you had to
identify and correct mistaken ideas about the Chinese internet or about entrepreneurship and innovation here that are still held unfortunately by many Americans, what would you say to them from your year here now?
Ambassador Locke: Me? Oh, wait a minute. Robin’s the internet guru.
Moderator: You’ve been here. You’ve seen some of these things. If you had to go back and now tell the American people you know what? Some of these ideas that are fixed in your minds about what the Chinese internet is all about are wrong. What are some of those that people are consistently getting wrong?
Ambassador Locke: I think it’s not so much that people get it wrong in the United States, it’s not a better appreciation of just how sophisticated the internet is and how widespread the internet is here in China. The fact that you have hundreds of millions of people using the internet. The fact that people in China have smart phones that rival the features and technology that you would find in the United States.
Moderator: And better networks.
Ambassador Locke: Yeah. In America, in Washington, D.C. for instance, you can go a few blocks and you’re constantly dropping your conversations and phone calls. Here it is, cellular
and smart phones were developed in the United States and yet I think we have some of the biggest challenges in terms of quality of service in the United States.
I think that people in the United States would be dumbfounded to know how many millions of people are using smart phones and technology, and how technology is enabling China to leapfrog and bypass some of the development struggles and pains that other developed countries had to go through to get to where they are now. Because of this technology. The ease of deploying this technology. You’re able to catch up and be just as advanced as any other country around the world.
Moderator: I’d like to start taking some questions for Ambassador Locke or for Robin from the audience here.
Question: Ambassador Locke, it’s so exciting that you’re here. My question is things are expanding internationally, so what do you think the best way for Baidu or other Chinese internet companies to attract talent from the outside of China? Thank you.
Moderator: What’s the best way to attract the talent force as we expand internationally to the outside world.
Ambassador Locke: Let’s see, do you offer free lunches -- [Laughter].
Moderator: Massage rooms.
Ambassador Locke: You do have massage rooms, that’s pretty cool.
I think it’s obviously the product, the innovations that you have that will attract people. I think people aren’t always motivated by pay. They want to be part of an exciting culture and exciting environment. They want to know that they’re part of the cutting edge of technology or the cutting edge of that industry. Obviously your reputation is one of energy, excitement, innovation, quality that is very very attractive to people around the world.
Question: Hello, Mr. Ambassador. A great honor to see you.
I guess most people in China, including myself, were quite delighted to see you coming with your family as the new Ambassador. People may see you more or less a bit different from your predecessors. So what do you want to achieve or change during your time in Beijing? Thank you.
Moderator: What are you trying to change and achieve in your time in Beijing?