That prediction was based largely on one reason: China lacks "serious law" about data protection, which gives companies pretty much free rein to develop their technology, said Dong Tao, vice chairman for Greater China at Credit Suisse Private Banking Asia Pacific.
"I'm not saying Chinese companies are better than American companies, I'm not saying Chinese engineers are better than American engineers. What will make China be big in AI and big data is: China has no serious law protecting data privacy," Tao told reporters Thursday at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong while explaining his call for the East Asian giant to become the top player in AI.
"WeChat is processing 7 billion photos a day — that's a massive, massive data resource. They will have an edge in image recognition," he added.
The comments by Tao, a well-known China expert, came in the wake of increasing legal backlash over data and privacy issues in some countries. Facebook, for example, has come under regulatory scrutiny for the way it handles user data.
Chinese technology companies won't be spared either, Tao said, explaining that tighter data privacy laws would be introduced at some point. And it would be a challenge for authorities to balance protecting the privacy of tech users and not hurting the sector's growth, he added.
Tech companies from China have grown leap and bounds in the past decade. Tao noted that the market capitalization of Tencent, for example, jumped from 105 billion Hong Kong dollars ($13.38 billion) in 2007 to 3.86 trillion Hong Kong dollars ($491.57 billion) 10 years later.
At a time when the Chinese economy is undergoing structural changes and a difficult deleveraging process, innovation led by tech companies can help the country maintain growth, said Tao.
"Cyclically, perhaps China will face headwinds due to deleveraging ... which will lead to some slowdown in GDP growth. The risk of even more acute adjustment is possible," he said.
"In the meantime the Chinese economy is moving into the next decade with new consumption and innovation. The risks and opportunities co-exist in China," he added.