Alibaba’s Amap, supported by China’s GPS rival Beidou, expands global coverage to boost Belt and Road plan

Amap, a maps app operated by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, has expanded its coverage to overseas territories using China’s home-grown Beidou satellite navigation system, touting its service as “a world atlas for Chinese people”.

Known locally as Gaode Map, the digital map supports route planning and navigation in more than 200 countries and regions after an upgrade on September 2, enabled by China’s answer to the United States’ GPS satellite system, Amap chief executive Liu Zhenfei said at a Belt-and-Road-Initiative themed event hosted by state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Amap users can use the app to search and view nearby attractions and services, such as restaurants and hotels, in countries that are part of Belt and Road – China’s ambitious plan to connect more than 70 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa via a “New Silk Road” of railways, highways and ports – according to the company.

Amap aims to “actively participate” in advancing the digitisation of Beijing’s grand infrastructure connectivity plan, Liu was quoted as saying by Chinese media.

alibabas amap supported by chinas gps rival beidou expands global coverage to boost belt and road plan 1
A carrier rocket carrying a satellite of the Beidou navigation satellite system blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest China’s Sichuan province in June 2020. Photo: Xinhua

The map’s widened coverage comes after China launched its 56th Beidou satellite in May, three years after its last one. For comparison, the GPS system is currently made up of 24 operational satellites.

The Belt and Road project, launched in 2013 with the goal of boosting China’s trade ties with the world and expanding the country’s global influence through infrastructure and investments, encompasses 152 countries to date.

But the initiative is facing headwinds amid China’s slowing economy and growing geopolitical tensions with the Western world.


Italy, the only Belt and Road member in the Group of Seven, is looking into exiting the Chinese programme, with defence minister Guido Crosetto recently calling the decision in 2019 to join the plan an “improvised and atrocious act”.

Meanwhile, Amap could find itself caught in the middle of territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries. China’s latest standard map, released on Monday by the Ministry of Natural Resources, triggered objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

Amap, one of the top map apps in China, saw a record of more than 220 million daily active users during the week-long National Day holiday last October, according to the company.

Hangzhou-based Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post, in February gave Amap a boost by integrating it with the restaurant review features of its sister app Koubei, as the company realigned internal resources to cope with rising competition.


South China Morning Post

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